Senate President: Tool Kit Provides Flexibility, But Sharing Saves Real Dollars
TRENTON – Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney today teamed with a group of mayors from across the state to jumpstart an aggressive campaign to promote shared services as the means to deliver real and sustainable property tax relief.
“For five months now, the people have been told time and again that the only thing standing between them and property tax salvation is the Governor’s tool kit,” said Sweeney (D-Gloucester/Cumberland/Salem). “But the fact is that, at most, the tool kit will only amount to a few pennies off your tax bill. If you ask mayors where the real savings is, they’ll tell you it’s in shared services.”
Sweeney was joined at a State House press conference by mayors David M. DelVecchio of Lambertville, Colleen Mahr of Fanwood, Timothy McDonough of Hope Township, Gary Passanante of Somerdale and Brian Wahler of Piscataway.
Sweeney praised the mayors as examples of municipal leaders willing to put taxpayers first by looking at ways to share services with local communities. But he noted the difficulties many mayors have had in bringing leaders from neighboring municipalities to the table.
“New Jersey’s property tax mess stems entirely from our long history of letting every town and school district have a slate of separate and distinct services that are duplicated again and again in every other town and school district,” said Sweeney. “New Jersey’s small town mayors do run efficient and effective governments, but the reality is that they would be just as efficient and just as effective – but a whole lot cheaper – if they teamed with their neighbors. These mayors understand that, but many others continue to act in their own self-interests rather than the interests of taxpayers. Today we are taking the first step to turn shared services into a money-saving reality for every taxpayer.”
Sweeney said the shared services push would do away with the state’s previous attempts at promoting shared services by simply providing pots of grant money for towns to access on their own. He also noted the mixed results of the state’s Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation (LUARC) Commission, which was created in 2007 to consider and recommend shared services and consolidations, but has yet to offer any concrete steps.
Sweeney also criticized the state Department of Education for saying it won’t take any action on implementing the school district consolidation plans submitted by executive county superintendents earlier this year, claiming the cost of feasibility studies is too high.
“We have to get away from simply waving money in front of towns and talking about shared services in the abstract in the hopes that a few will decide to come together,” said Sweeney. “The carrot has gotten very few nibbles. It’s time for us to break out a few sticks.”
Sweeney said he would work with the mayors to craft legislation that would put the state on a more aggressive timetable and give it greater leverage to pull municipalities and schools to the shared services table. Sweeney was cosponsor in 2006 along with Senator Joe Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) of legislation to create a commission that would create a single list of municipal and school district consolidations to be voted up-or-down in its entirety by the Legislature; while Sweeney said he is not ready to push such legislation now, towns must be put on notice that ignoring sharing opportunities won’t be tolerated.
He said LUARC commission should be reconstituted and given the authority to not only recommend but also implement consolidations of some services – including police, 911 dispatching, tax collection and municipal courts, among others – into regional or county units.
Sweeney also gave his support to bipartisan legislation (S-2261) sponsored by Senators Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) and Kyrillos that would shift school administration away from the current district model to a countywide model, which would save millions in administrative salaries.
The Senate President highlighted a recent analysis of Gloucester County’s implementation of shared services and regionalization that showed municipal savings of nearly $24.4 million countywide – the average savings of 18 cents off the local property tax rate. In Franklin Township alone, participation in shared services has saved taxpayers 19.75 cents off the average property tax rate; Glassboro property taxpayers realized savings of more than 35 cents.
“Whether it be at the municipal or school level, New Jersey’s property taxes are sky-high because we simply have too much government,” said Sweeney. “But doing away with the excess does not mean residents have to give up their local identity. The simple reality is shared services will mean providing the same services more efficiently, which ultimately will mean lower property taxes.”