New Jersey Senator gets tough on shared services

Some New Jersey lawmakers are getting tough on shared services. Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has passed a bill through the Senate that would allow the state to get on the shared services bandwagon or face the loss of state aid. New Jersey has been working for the last year to move its many small municipalities on to a shared services model in an effort to control costs, but some cities and townships have been reluctant to move to the model. Now, state officials want to add some teeth to the plan.

This is the second year for a bill that would empower New Jersey’s Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC) to cut municipal costs by merging redundant roles across cities and towns. Supporters of the plan site cuts to New Jersey’s high property tax rates as a place in which residents could see relief if shared services were allowed to move forward. However, those opposed to the plan have campaigned on slogans such as “save our police department,” as a means of pushing voters to opt against tax cuts and keep services separate.

Under the terms of the proposed bill, any municipality that opts out of shared services could potentially face a loss of state aid if they are deemed to be spending unnecessarily. The bill does not require municipalities to move immediately to a shared services model, but they do have to indicate that they will eventually get there. Existing union contracts for example would be allowed to go forward as-is until new contracts are negotiated that reflect the shared services model.

Police consolidation in New Jersey is being considered in several bills, as an opening gambit for shared services as state officials look for ways to reign in some of the highest property tax rates in the nation. Geograpically, New Jersey is a relatively compact state, but the counties are full of tiny municipalities – 566 to be exact, each running their own sets of services. In some cases sharing between cities and towns would mean sharing police that are already only minutes away from each other and would not lead to a loss of jobs. Instead, municipalities could see savings by consolidating technology, office space, and vehicle fleets as well as sharing the costs of this infrastructure among several towns effectively cutting down on overall discretionary spending.

The bill is co-sponsored by two republicans, Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos (R-Monmouth) and Sen. Kevin O’Toole (R-Essex). The bill has early support from the New Jersey League of Municipalities although it is likely to face steep opposition from public sector unions when it makes it to the Assembly. As CivSource has reported, as budget revenues continue to tighten many states are considering a shared services model in an effort to control costs. However, these measures are often controversial as residents prefer the optics of hyperlocal emergency responders over a county service.