Reform Would Eliminate Government Redundancy, Create Taxpayer Savings
TRENTON: Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney today unveiled shared services legislation that would result in taxpayer savings through the elimination of government redundancies, while creating concrete fiscal consequences for local government entities that refuse to enter into sharing agreements that could help their property taxpayers.
“The taxpayers of New Jersey simply can’t handle their property tax burden anymore. Residents demand greater government efficiency and greater savings,” said Sweeney. “It is well past time we stop just talking and really do something to provide the incentives needed to get us moving in the right direction on shared services. Simply put, if a town can save money through sharing services and decides not to do so, they are going to lose out on state aid. If you do not want more cost-effective government, than the taxpayers of New Jersey should not be footing the bill.”
The legislation would require New Jersey’s Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC) to study local government units (county government, municipal government, school districts) to determine where taxpayer dollars could be saved through sharing of services. If the study shows that a savings can be realized through sharing that service in one or more local governments, the question of whether to do so or not would be put to a public referendum in all municipalities involved. If the towns involved fail to pass or refuse to implement it in 14 months, they would be subject to losing state aid in the amount equal to what they would have saved had they shared the service. If one town approves it but another denies it, only the town that denied it would lose aid.
“Shared services shouldn’t just be relegated to talk between towns, but must also take place among counties and school districts,” said Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D-Camden), who will sponsor the bill in the Assembly. “Residents hear every day about how their communities could share with another and may simply assume officials are making the right choices to put those ideas into action. This plan will ensure that taxpayer expectations are actually met. I look forward to working with the Senate President and my Assembly colleagues to pass this bill, so taxpayers can stop assuming their officials are doing the right thing and will know that they are with certainty.”
Shared services reform is the third in a series of comprehensive reforms Senate President Sweeney has proposed over the past two months. In January, he introduced legislation to reform the state’s broken pension system and unveiled legislation to reform public employee health benefits in February. Along with this new legislation, Senate President Sweeney’s reforms would result in hundreds of millions of dollars in savings to New Jersey taxpayers, allow local officials to rein in property taxes, and implement measures that are fair to lower and middle income workers.
“Given today’s economic climate it is imperative that local governments take advantage of every means possible to save taxpayer dollars while ensuring the efficient delivery of essential services. For years we have heard talk about the need to share services, but rarely did we see any action. We tried the carrot a few years ago when we offered state aid for sharing services, but it didn’t work. More direct action is needed, and this legislation addresses that need,” said Sweeney.
Civil service rules would be suspended for employees impacted by any shared services that are implemented. This would address a concern raised by local government leaders that civil service rules serve as a barrier to sharing services. In putting together the legislation, Senator President Sweeney met with numerous local elected officials who provided valuable input on the issue of shared services.
“This plan is made stronger in that it directly addresses the antiquated civil service rules that have not only proven overly burdensome and costly, but have been stumbling blocks to sharing agreements in the past,” said New Jersey Association of Counties Immediate Past President and Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer. “There is no doubt that sharing services makes government more efficient and cost-effective. I look forward to working with the Senate President to ensure that counties continue to lead the way in delivering property tax relief through sharing.”
“What makes this bill stand out is that it wasn’t created in a vacuum, but with input from those who know their communities. All too often, Trenton thinks it knows what’s best for towns without actually asking towns what they really need. Senate President Sweeney went out of his way to include input from mayors and freeholders in crafting this legislation. By talking to those of us who live in this new world of shared services every day, he ensured that this bill can only help us move the ball of property tax relief further down the field,” said Mayor David DelVecchio of Lambertville.
“We share with Senate President Sweeney the commitment to provide meaningful, lasting relief to New Jersey’s property taxpayers,” said Chuck Chiarello, President of the New Jersey League of Municipalities and Mayor of Buena Vista Township. “His leadership in the promoting of shared services is part of that commitment. By removing many of the roadblocks that increase the costs of shared services – things like terminal leave pay, civil service mandates, employee tenure requirements – provisions in Senate President Sweeney’s bill will begin to make that happen.“
The bill will officially be introduced tomorrow.