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Form E. Newark, Harrison, Kearny Merger / Shared Services Study Commis


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The municipalities of Kearny, Harrison, and East Newark should consider merging into a single, consolidated town. The towns are small in terms of both population (approx. 40K, 14K, and 3K respectively) and geography and can easily be managed more efficiently (both in effectiveness and cost) as a single entity.

As a first step, the town councils should gather information on the process of merging and then form a joint commission to see if it would be beneficial to either to share more services or to merge outright. Possible areas to share services or those that would be consolidated as part of the overall merger: school districts, police departments, fire districts – these are ultimately the biggest services/costs for the municipalities (millions of dollars).

Please understand: while I am advocating for consolidation, and many people may disagree with the benefits/need for consolidation, I only want to see these three municipalities CONSIDER this by forming a study commission that would look at consolidation and service sharing. Even if the only thing to come from it is more shared services, that would still be great for all of us. For example, let’s say the only thing that is decided upon is a shared garbage contract that saves $50K a year – that is still a 50K savings!

If any of us were to start from scratch and create new municipalities in NJ, we almost certainly wouldn’t create them as they are currently. There are 565 municipalities in NJ, some quite large (e.g. Newark), others quite small (e.g. East Newark). They exist for a mix of historic reasons: related to the difficulty of governing larger areas in years past (think pre-Internet, phones, cars, etc.), and as a result of NJ’s long support of home rule (people can form towns when they don’t feel that the current town they are part of truly represents them).

Why are there still so many towns now? In many cases, simple inertia. It takes work to rationalize town size. In recent years, there has been bipartisan effort to create the systems and legal framework to allow towns to merge.

Princeton Township and Princeton Borough have recently voted in favor of municipal consolidation. For details, here is the pro-consolidation advocacy website: http://www.uniteprinceton.org/. A BusinessWeek article on the Princetons: http://www.businessw...-consolidation.

What I propose we do:

1. Contact our town councilpersons, administrative personnel, and mayors to request they at least consider this proposal to form a joint consolidation and shared services study commission. (E-mail addresses below.)

2. Ask each town council invite the non-profit, non-partisan Courage to Connect NJ (http://www.couragetoconnectnj.org/) to present at the next public council meetings in each respective town. The purpose should be to understand the process, examples, the benefits, the drawbacks and costs to municipal consolidation. The Councils could even ask a couple people from the Princetons to present: maybe a person from the “pro-consolidation” side and one from the “anti-consolidation” side.

3. Each Town Council votes to form a Joint Consolidation/Shared Services Study Commission.

OR

4. If the Town Councils are not willing to vote to form a Joint Consolidation/Shared Services Study Commission, we form a group to advocate for the consolidation, creating the required petitions to force the municipalities to form the commission.

Of note: This is posted in the KOTW forums for all three municipalities.

E-mail addresses I could find (as a side note: I was shocked it was so difficult to find e-mail addresses for our elected local representatives – imagine if any 200-300 person company didn’t have some sort of e-mail contact easily available nowadays):

Harrison:

Councilman James Doran: jdoran@harrison.k12.nj.us

Kearny:

Main “contact us” form: http://www.kearnyusa.com/contact

East Newark:

Mayor Joseph Smith: jsmith_eastnewark@verizon.net

Borough e-mail address: boroughofeastnewark@verizon.net

Arguments in Favor

Greater Efficiencies Through Shared Services. Shared services are already being employed in some cases (e.g. E. Newark and Harrison share dispatching, street sweeping, and road salting). Maybe the answer from the study commission will be to only share more services, maybe full consolidation. We don’t know until we form a study commission. The basic idea is that certain functions can be easily combined: a single town clerk, single department heads for construction, public works, police, fire, health, recreation, treasurer, superintendent of schools, etc.. You won’t be able to eliminate that many rank and file workers, but if nothing else you can eliminate some department heads and flatten the workforce structure – saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in salary, healthcare costs, and pension obligations. As an operations or supply chain person would tell you, one of the best things you can do to reduce wait times and inefficiencies is to pool resources. That is exactly what this allows. We can keep the best workers, eliminate multiple administrative heads, and put our combined resources where they are most needed.

Reduce Health Care Expenses. The combined municipality will have a larger pool of employees and be able to negotiate reduced per-employee rates for group health insurance. The same is true for the new combined school district. Other purchasing/procurement costs will also go down as we can negotiate from a larger base than each town was able to do previously. Overall we are looking at savings of millions of dollars each year.

Lower Property Taxes. This is result of reduced expenses and greater efficiency. This is probably the main argument.

Greater Clout. As a single entity our towns will end up being stronger in Hudson County and in NJ. Together we have a larger tax base and more citizens. A single town, largely acting through a single Mayor, will have substantially more influence than any of our current Mayors.

Arguments Against (I’ve made the argument and the counter-argument)

Reduced, Not More Efficient, Services. The obvious fear is that this will result in reduced services in each town. This shouldn’t be the case. By consolidating, there should be more funds available to continue municipal services as we won’t be spending as much on top level administration. Towns are all struggling to pay for the services as is and are making cuts in different areas: better that these cuts be to administrative overhead rather than whole types of services.

Previously Incurred Debt Sharing. You may think: “Gosh my town runs itself very well (e.g. Kearny), I don’t want to merge with terribly run other towns (E. Newark and Harrison) and pay off their huge debt loads related to all the development stuff I wouldn’t have supported.” Good point, I probably wouldn’t either, or at least it would be a concern. Fortunately the law allows for towns that merge to have the option to maintain separate payments of previously incurred debt – so the former Harrison residents would still be on the hook for that debt, but going forward all debt would be shared. Of course we could also simply share more services, not consolidate, in which case this is a non-issue. Regardless, a study commission would look in depth at this issue.

Transition Costs. Yes, there are absolutely costs of merging the towns and school districts, such as standardizing uniforms and equipment, consolidating code books, printing, moving/relocation costs, harmonization of salaries, and town and municipal signage. Perhaps even severance packages if the towns decide that is a direction they want to go when laying off senior workers. In the Princetons it is estimated that the transition cost is a one-off $1.7 million. That’s a lot, but perhaps not when compared to the expected annual savings of up to $3.1 million…

Psychological. In many cases some of the voting residents have formed strong attachments to their respective towns. While it is possible to still maintain that unique identity, some might not agree. For example, a Kearny resident that graduated from all Kearny schools may not like the idea of combining with Harrison, or vice versa. An “us vs. them” mentality. Personally I think this is narrow minded and fails to take a larger perspective on the world, but I understand some people think this way. So then why not simply share more services? A study commission is still a great first step.

Municipal Layoffs. You might say, “greater “efficiency” simply means firing government workers. It isn’t fair to get rid of hard working people at the alter of efficiency. They have families. This likely would mean eliminating workers, particularly higher level workers (department heads, some assistant superintendents, etc.).” However, if we feel this is so unfair to them the study commission can advocate for severance packages to these workers as part of the transition costs. Ultimately, government does not exist to provide jobs to as many people as possible – if that were the case, we should all be advocating for each town to hire more and more workers.

Loss of Sovereignty. People may think: won’t my voice be drowned out by the larger community? For example, “I live in East Newark now, how will my voice be heard when I am part of Kearny that has over 40K residents and my old town only has 2.5K?” OK, true. The point of home rule was exactly that: to make sure little tiny distinct communities could govern themselves if they felt different from the larger group. That’s why East Newark split from Kearny a hundred years ago anyway. But how much is that ultimately worth to your household? If it means $400 of $500 less per year in property taxes for you because we merge, do you still care? Do you feel like you are actually part of a distinct community now? Where would you draw the community lines? Exactly as they are now? I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel I have a say in the town as it is, going to a combined town of about 60K isn’t that bad. It is still substantially smaller than many other towns. 60K people is still a small town and the geographic enlargement is fairly minimal (we all share so many similarities geographically anyway).

Corrupt Political Process. You may be convinced this all makes sense on paper, but don’t trust the system. After all, Harrison has only had 2 mayors in something like 40 years right? You are probably thinking everyone in government service is likely corrupt or in a position because of nepotism and the new system will be the same and you will never see any reduced property taxes. It is ultimately possible that is the case. All the same, why not simply form a study commission or at least start the discussion somehow. Perhaps the increased reporting and transparency created by this process will itself be beneficial. Personally, I think it will be more difficult for a larger system to be corrupt than for any of the current smaller systems. Ultimately with shared services or consolidation, the towns will spend less because of the greater efficiencies, so the “pool” of government money will be reduced.

Final Thoughts

There are certainly arguments against municipal consolidation or shared services. Fair enough. Maybe we shouldn’t do either. However, what would it hurt to simply bring in the non-profit group to talk about possible consolidation at town council meetings, and possibly bring in some of the people that just did this in the Princetons and learn from their experiences? That costs absolutely nothing other than a few hours at the town council meetings.

A study commission is the logical next step, and the costs to simply conduct the study are extremely minimal (tens of thousands, compared to the tens of millions we spend annually for the combined budgets of these three municipalities). Even if it was recommended to merge, it would have to then go to a vote in each municipality. And the state helps pick up some of the tab for the consolidation study and for the actual transition costs. I am merely advocating for an intelligent discussion on the issue.

I encourage everyone to post thoughts on this. More importantly, I encourage everyone to reach out to their elected town representatives one way or the other on this issue.

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Guest Guest

You spent a great deal of what used to be ink putting forth a very good idea. Although it deserves more thought, I will give you a short answer ... it will not happen any time in the near future, like in the next ten years or so.

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Guest Guest

I agree it never will happen, but is a good idea. The people that actually go out to vote aren't overwhelmingly in favor of this issue or excited by it. They are far more excited to discuss "hot-button" social issues or sling mud at random politicians for "lying" or making random accusations. Who wouldn't? This is something of a technocratic, boring issue that takes a lot of time to study, put to a vote after a lot of open public hearings to discuss the study, and then to implement.

The easiest way to do this is to have the people currently in power advocate for a study, unfortunately I think the people in power have too much to lose to ever want this. There is an agency problem; that is, the interests of the people in power (elected and appointed senior leaders like the department heads/chiefs) do not align with the vast majority of the people they serve. No government union would support this (because it likely means layoffs for at least some of their members), no senior leader would (because that is where the chief gains come from), and no family member of any of those that would be reduced would support it because it hurts their families. In local elections those groups are the most diligent about voting.

As for who can make up the commission: that can be specified in either the joint town council resolutions by all the municipalities that are looking to merge or by the petition asking the towns to form the commission. Typically the commission is made up of an equal number of government leaders from each municipality and some other independent folks. But it can be whomever the resolutions/petitions say. Then the administrative people are required to look at everything: for example, the police chiefs all have to get together, the school superintendents, etc.

While I think this whole thing is a huge long shot, I still encourage anyone who reads this thread to contact people in government in the towns (some e-mail addresses are above). If nothing else, they can at least bring in that non-profit to discuss this and look at some more service sharing. What's the downside to that?

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Guest guest

as a retired public employee from another town and now current resident here, there is NO doubt in anyone's mind that these three towns should combine. The state now will be giving grants and loans to towns who do merge services, not to mention you would only need one chief of police one fire chief , one school super ect. You would still have a council person to represent your problems and ideas to the separate departments.

The problem is you need townspeople to make it happen. The local unions are going to be against merging anything, i can tell you that from experience. By merging departments you are going to lose positions in each department so the unions are gonna fight it. We would have the west hudson police force, west hudson fire, west hudson school district. imagine how much money would be saved? You no longer would need 3 fire chiefs, 3 police chiefs, ect. with the money saved for two of those chiefs you can probably hire at the least 2 or 3 more officers which will directly benefit citizens. Harrison PD would just become West hudson PD , Harrison Pct. so there would be no loss in services to the public. I would imagine there would have to be a public safety director who would handle management of non day to day issues of the departments. Again, this wont happen because the unions will be against it, the mayors aren't going to want to give up any type of power, and the citizens are going to be lied to about loss of services.

Really it would be a win win for every citizen in west hudson.

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Guest Guest

This should definitely get more traction in West Hudson, I guess it just isn't one of those "hot button" issues. I'd be for this. I've heard Scotch Plains and Fanwood are looking at forming a study commission to look at how to share more services or possibly merge. Between not being a "sexy" idea and all the politicians and employees freaking people out about this type of stuff, I don't know if we can get some momentum.

I'm sending an e-mail to the Mayor though.

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Guest George Jetson

The #1 man in the State of NJ, the Honorable Governor Christopher Christie, would sign this in blood if had to because it makes sense and eliminates waste, therefor lowering property taxes. The people should get it done and go over these local yokal Mayors heads to get it done. It would not be that difficult.

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Guest Guest

Back in the 90s then Councilman Leadbeater ran for Freeholder stating exactly the same things. Is this you John? I still have your literature that talked about doing away with the 3 towns and making 1 called West Hudson. Problem was too many politicians and their friends worked their asses off to see that this never became a reality and elected Al Cifelli and to this day he still holds that position. Guess Leadbeater was right 20 years ago

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