Tuesday, October 20, 2015

How long would you take to save money?

If you could get a superior level of a critical service for less money, how long would it take you to switch to this service?
1) 1 week
2) 2 years
3) 20 years and counting

I don't want to answer for you, but the answer for governmental departments and towns is 20 years and counting. 

Here's an example from Milwaukee County in Wisconsin. 20 years ago 7 separate communities consolidated their 7 separate fire and EMS departments into 1 regional department that is offering a far better level of service than if they had stayed separate.  A regional approach allowed the single fire district to reduce financial expenditures annually and ease the need for tax increases the past 20 years. Below is a chart of how  creating a singe district reduced the number of stations, equipment and staff needed while providing a higher quality of service. 

                    7 districts  |  1 district 
Fire Stations        7                  5

Fire Trucks          31               15

Staff                    60               53

Regionalization has delivered on its promise.  Read their recent 20 year report 'Come Together:  An analysis of fire department consolidation in Milwaukee County's North Shore'

The report wonders why, in the last 20 years, there hasn't been any TALK about consolidating another fire district, police department, or school district in Wisconsin. 

Are you willing to look at getting better services for less cost?


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Only in NJ can we turn a road to success into a dead end!

Are we ever going to control and reduce our property taxes in NJ? 
Not if our state won't give the same financial support to other towns that it gave to the Princetons' successful consolidation in 2013. 

The NJ State Legislature passed a law in 2007 giving taxpayers more power with the right to petition to form a state approved Municipal Consolidation Study Commission. This body has the task to study projected savings, the impact on services and define what the unified town would look like. An independent study is needed to assist the Commisioners in finding out the answers. Princeton received 50% of its funding from the state. 

The law is working as intended. 

If local mayors or governing bodies do not want to give up their positions and fiefdoms, then the taxpayers do not have to be held hostage. They can use this law. 

The law has been successful. 

2011- Cherry Hill and Merchantville formed a Consolidation Study Commission but was disbanded shortly after. No funding for a feasibility study from the state. 

2013- Scotch Plains and Fanwood petitioned and formed a Consolidation Study Commission but was dissolved a year later. No funding or support from the state. 

2015- Roxbury and Mt. Arlington have recently formed a Consolidation Study Commission to study for the first time in NJ a possible town and school merger. 

Is it possible that the state of NJ will not financially support taxpayers using their law?  Unfortunately YES. 

So the Princeton's will be the only towns in NJ to use this law?  No other towns can have the opportunity to build on the successful consolidation of Princeton. 

How short sighted can our state be? These taxpayers are not just complaining and grousing about their high property taxes but have put in years of effort to  petition, follow the law and create Consolidation Study Commissions only to have the state not do its part of the law. Fund the law!!
Fund the efforts of taxpayers!!

Are you outraged? 
Send your outrage to your legislators.  


Monday, June 8, 2015

The Power of NO, stopping ways to reduce property taxes NJ

Last month The Cordero Group released their preliminary report for Pennsauken Twp outsourcing their police service to the Camden County Police Department. The report concluded that there is "an opportunity to realize substantial economic savings while significantly enhancing police services".

So facing a $5.8 million a year savings for their taxpayers, the Pennsauken Mayor and governing body unanimously rejected consideration of the County Police bid. 
Really!! No counter proposal. No negotiations. No looking further to explore a workable solution. 
No discussion period. 

What was the number they were looking for?

When was the last time Pennsauken paid
$8.2 million a year for salary, wages and benefits instead of the current $13.3 million? Twenty years ago? Talk about turning the financial clocks back. 

The report clearly  states that Pennsauken has too many officers and can reduce their force by at least 10 and actually improve service levels. The police can become more efficient in serving the community. 

So the story goes; 150 residents show up to a governing body meeting and voiced their objections. 150 out of 35,885 residents, said they liked their police department the way it is (status quo) and they would lose town identity.

How many of the 150 residents read the preliminary report? I have a number in mind. It is the second letter in NO. 
Is it possible that the 150 were stakeholders or friends of stakeholders, all putting a stake in the heart of reducing property taxes?
Did the governing body take into account the average household income is $65,900? They must believe the residents clearly have a lot of disposable income, especially after they pay the average $4,796 in property taxes. So Pennsauken taxpayers saving $57.5 million the next 6 years, is frankly, NO big deal. 
Can the Pennsauken Mayor and governing body ever again say that they are committed to reducing property taxes in their town??

I bet you they do!      Next election. 


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Some People Think I Am Crazy

When I tell people in any other state across the country that in NJ we have hundreds of K-8 school districts sending to regional high schools, they think I am crazy. 

When I speak with people in NJ about creating K-12 unified school districts for consistent curriculum and fiscal efficiency, they think I am crazy. 

When I speak with Mayors around the state, they say 'Shared Services' save money but consolidation does not. 

I say sharing a court saves thousands; consolidating the administration and police saves millions. 

Pick out the crazy one here. 

Residents say, 'I do not want to lose my town identity so I am opposed to consolidation. 

I ask, how many towns in NJ have a strong identity that is not the name of their government?
Let us ask the residents of Basking Ridge, Allendale, Oakhurst, Martinsville,
Ortley Beach, Short Hills, Ewing, Ocean Grove, Menlo Park, Waretown, Sandy Hook, Colonia etc... (There are about 920 more but I will not bore you.)

All of these distinct, identifiable towns have a different name than their government. They can be found on GPS and highway signs.  They have their own zip codes and mailing addresses, fire departments, train stations, beaches, separate business districts and schools with their names, parades and town flags. 

So now who is crazy?  Not me. 

Friday, May 1, 2015

Are You One Of Those People? I Am.

After 'Home Rule' we need to look at the next two words that stop NJ from moving forward and challenging the status quo. 

'Those People', just like 'Not in my Backyard' or better known as NIMBY, divides all of us in NJ from ever trying to work together to solve our financial, pension, infrastructure, transportation and property tax issues. 

Aren't we all 'Those People' to someone else?  Which of the following descriptions of me will label me one of 'Those People' to you?

I am 56, white, female, homosexual, high school educated, not a member of any organized religion, former democratic Mayor, now an independent, middle to upper class, teacher, activist. 

What descriptions separate you?

A few years ago, I gave a presentation about municipal consolidation in Summit, NJ. During the Q&A a man in a suit stood up and declared this idea to be dead in the water because he did not want to be with 'Those People' in Springfield or New Providence. By the way these are fairly affluent towns and New Providence schools are rated top in NJ. 

It is somewhat disturbing when people actually say 'Those People' in public.  I much prefer when they just imply it. 

So I did a little research and found out two interesting facts about Summit NJ. 

Summit has the most households that make over $200,000 per year in NJ.  Summit, also, has 25% of its residents that make under $35,000 per household per year. 

He is already with 'Those People'. 
I recommend he read ' The Sneetches' by Dr. Seuss. 

If we cannot mature beyond this mentality of highlighting our differences, then I agree municipal consolidation will never happen again in NJ. 

What drives me is I see the similarities of the issues we are facing.  I see the connections we all have that encourage us to start working together.   Let's get moving.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Scary Alternatives for Struggling Towns

Last week Governor Christie signed into law "The Water Infrasture Protection Act" which allows the sale of municipal water and municipal sewage treatment plants to private entities. 
Three things you need to know about this law. 

Our small inefficient towns are struggling to stay afloat. This law allows towns to sell our assets to a corporation and its shareholders that 'We the taxpayers' have built and maintained for years. 

Okay... Will the private companies put service over profit?

The law also takes away the provision that 'We the taxpayers' will be able to vote on the sale. If you do not like the idea you will have to petition (very quickly) to let the people decide. 

Okay... So where is the local control?

The third thing you need to know is now the Board of Public Utilities no longer has ANY oversight on how much of the purchase price and transaction costs will be passed on to 'You the taxpayer'.

Okay...Local government win, private business wins, and 'We the taxpayers' lose. 

Selling our municipal assets and privatization will soon threaten your town.  It is already happening in mine. 

Consolidation vs. Privatization 

You choose. 


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

What is So Scary about Municipal Consolidation?

Maybe we have hardened ourselves to the fact that nothing will change in NJ. We are known for our high property taxes, defined by our highway exits and corruption that gives us the name 'Soprano State'

Our high property taxes are a result of having hundreds of small, inefficient local governments and everyone has to pay for them. We are a 'Home Rule' state, so we have Mayors who will fight tooth and nail for their fiefdoms. We have residents who continually say their town is run much better than the next town over....until they move. 

But the number 1 reason NJ has made little progress on reducing the number of towns through municipal consolidation is fear of change and fear of loss of local control. 

But fear also makes us unable to move or think differently. We become paralysed.  So we are like deer in headlights. And we have enough deer in NJ. 

Maybe we enjoy complaining and paying exhorbinant property taxes because we're 'Jersey'.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

ARE SHARED SERVICES AND MUNICIPAL CONSOLIDATION THE SAME?

Many elected officials, lobbyists, taxpayers and the media have trouble answering this question. So let's see if there is a difference.
Sharing an employee or service:
Shared Service- If a town is too small for a full time Health Officer or Recreational Director then 2 or more towns can share an employee or share the service. 
Requirements:  A negotiated contract for which town pays the employee, salary, benefits, and what percentage would each town pay, etc.
Consolidation - One employee, no legal review.

Sharing equipment:
Shared Service- Towns that are too small to purchase a street sweeper, sewer truck, etc. can purchase equipment together to save taxpayer dollars.
Requirements:  A negotiated contract on which town pays insurance, stores the equipment and who is responsible for scheduling the use of the equipment. etc. 
Consolidation - The town is large enough to need and purchase the equipment

Share purchasing of supplies:
Shared Service - It is much cheaper if towns buy larger amounts of salt or gasoline. So they make contracts together for purchasing materials at a lower price.  
Consolidation - Even greater savings possible when they share even larger amounts, with no legal expenses.

Sharing Police:
Shared Service - Two or more towns would form a shared Police dept. The law that allows this is called the 'Joint Meeting'. However this forces towns to create another governing body to oversee the shared police dept.  The police then report to their own governing body and to the 'Joint Meeting'.  (This law has many flaws and really needs to be fixed. )
Not one Joint Meeting Police shared service has been formed yet.
Consolidation - One unified Police force that can use this opportunity to innovate and create a brand new Police dept. to better serve and meet the needs of their community.

Mayors and Governing Bodies:
Shared Services - 565 Mayors, 3,000 Council/Committee members and 1,000's of negotiated contracts with ongoing legal review and associated costs. 
Consolidation - Fewer than 250 Mayors, fewer than 1,500 Council/Committee members and fewer negotiated contracts.  One time consolidation implementation costs which can be spread over 5 years and the State will cover 20% or the first year cost. 

More on this topic on my next blog!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Death by Home Rule?



“Home Rule” -- These are two words that have held NJ back for decades.  Ask a Mayor why they can’t share major services; “Home Rule”.  Ask anyone in the state why municipal consolidation will not happen and the response is “Home Rule”.  Why are these two words so effective in stopping change?   

Home Rule is created by 565 arbitrary boundary lines that create an Us vs. Them mentality.  These town lines were created for reasons that we can’t remember and are not relevant today.  Do we want to pay the price for the arbitrary borders that were made over 100 years ago?

Home Rule has forced us into tiny, inefficient towns.  Towns around the state are facing massive sewage, road, water, transportation and infrastructure issues.  Dwindling surpluses leave towns in a precarious condition.  With the 2% cap, numerous state mandates and stagnant state funding, our local governments have little real control.

Home Rule forces us to address these issues piecemeal.  The problems facing NJ and municipalities cannot be addressed by 565 mostly weak and small governments competing against each other for diminishing resources. 

Home Rule – Two words that continue the escalation of property taxes, weaken our ability to address our aging infrastructure and stifle innovation.  These two words prevent finding any regional approaches to our problems.  These two words complicate economic development and make it hard for businesses to do business in New Jersey.

What other two words could open the door to possibilities?  “Better Together” (It’s a great book by the way.)  Together we can create larger, stronger local governments.  We can use the savings from consolidation and regionalization to pay for infrastructure improvements, make transportation issues easier and reduce the number of people in our stressed pension system.

If we come together, we will have options available.  We can use innovation to solve problems and create a sustainable future.

Home Rule or Better Together?  Which two words do you choose?