EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The Mayors or representatives of a dozen Middlesex County municipalities met with East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen and Highland Park Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler at the Community Arts Center last week to discuss the possibility of increasing shared services among the communities. Sharing services allows municipalities to reduce redundancies in services, meet needs for equipment and support, and possibly reduce taxes. The attendees were creative and enthusiastic about reviewing the way some jobs could be done more efficiently at less cost.
The conversation was driven by newly-appointed "Shared Services Czars" Jordan Glatt and Nichols Platt who represent both Governor Murphy and Senate President Sweeney who have both shown enthusiasm for the idea of sharing resources among townships and cities. "We are not here to tell you how to run your towns or or how to make some savings, but there have been lots of studies that show this is a good idea. However, some administrators have lacked the political will to share essential services to save money," said Platt as a n opener to the discussion.
Glatt echoed his remarks, saying, " Towns want to do this but sometimes there is a hesitancy to do what is necessary. The idea is to take some of the bureaucracy out of doing the necessary work." Glatt suggested that an executive order from the Governor might make things easier for townships where residents fear losing their communal identity if they share with other towns. "You have to build trust within your community. You start with building inspector, parks, and zoning officers, " he added. Glatt cited the example of New Providence and Summit who started out by sharing the cost of an expensive street sweeper and ended up sharing the costs and personnel in the courts, emergency dispatch, and health departments.
Glatt encouraged residents to look at the possibilities that have been enacted on the New Jersey League of Municipalities website. The website contains sample agreements and contracts statewide.
Spotswood Mayor Ed Seely discussed the boro's recent success merging police services with Helmetta. "The town that benefits financially is the one that loses the services," he said. He then acknowledged that the two municipalities have discussed sharing services in waste management, EMS, and dispatch. Seely said that he could foresee a time when Spotswood and Helmetta could merge, citing the recent example of Princeton and Princeton Boro.
Platt and Glatt suggested that the Governor had the authority to set a date for the elimination of the many tiny towns in New Jersey that spend a good deal of taxpayer money on services and personnel. The attendees at the meeting discussed all topics, including the difference between sharing services and merging townships. several mayors wanted to know, "What's this going to look like?"
They stated that, "The governor and senate are aggressively behind this." The described their jobs as working to "incentivize and facilitate" sharing services among communities. "we are at the point now where we have no choice, " said Glatt: "The Governor needs to take the initiative to dissolve some small towns in New Jersey." He suggested that Governor Murphy could pass a law that no more towns under 4,000 residents could exist in New Jersey. Currently, New Jersey is divided into 21 counties and contains 565 municipalities consisting of five types: 254 boroughs, 52 cities, 15 towns, 241 townships, and three villages. (wikipedia)
Attendees discussed sharing some police services with Middlesex County, for example police dispatch and animal shelters. John Carroll, Director of Public & Government Affairs for Middlesex County, said that the County has already invested in a countywide radio notification system and has plans for more towns to use the same communications vehicles which would be funded by the Freeholders. Milltown Mayor Eric Steeber acknowledged, "There are lots of things the county does well."
Highland Park Mayor Mittler stressed that it was "important to start thinking about the smaller things to get people used to sharing services." Her thoughts were echoed by North Brunswick Mayor Francis Womack.
Mayor Brad Cohen discussed the high costs of maintaining public libraries in every community, citing the nearly $4 million-dollar annual expense to run the East Brunswick Public Library, saying that it might be better to see the township library as a regional facility that serves several local towns. Cohen cited redundant services like yoga classes, which are offered by the Department of Parks and Recreation, The Department on Aging, and the Library. Mayor Seely agreed that "the best place to start is the library."
East Brunswick Business Administrator Joe Criscuolo noted that his peers are having a meeting focused on shared services. "People have to understand "that we are at the point of no return," he said. "There has to be a concrete reason for why people need to share services. People are attracted to the differences in the towns. That's why they move there." Criscuolo described the desire for local "Home Rule." He stressed the difference between sharing services and merging municipalities.
Crisuolo described the enormous expense to townships for fire trucks and apparatus. Cohen also noted that the Governor has ordered a review of expenses on equipment by local fire departments, and he also cited the small turnout - only 24 residents - at the most recent fire department elections in the township.
The meeting ended with some networking among the mayors and a strong offer of the "Shared Services Czars" for increased support. "The Governor of New Jersey has more power than any other governor in any other state, " said Nicholas Platt. "Governor Murphy has promised to sign executive orders to facilitate shared services."