NJ Senate Passes Shared Services Bill [POLL/AUDIO]
Your property taxes are probably going to go up. That's the warning we're hearing from Governor Chris Christie and a slew of mayors who blame the cost of rebuilding and recovery in the aftermath of super-storm Sandy.
Most experts agree that if towns shared services they could save money. The full State Senate has passed a bill that not only strongly encourages municipalities to share services if it makes sense, but also penalizes them if they do not.
Legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Sweeney and Senator Joe Kyrillos would promote taxpayer savings through the creation of greater efficiencies within government.
"If governments don't wish to run their towns more cost-effectively, there is no reason the taxpayers of New Jersey should have to foot their bill," says Sweeney. "It is time we start providing the necessary incentives to get us moving on shared services. Towns can share services with each other while not losing their individual identity or the uniqueness of their communities. The bottom line is that the taxpayers of this state need a break and shared services is one way to give it to them."
The bill would require New Jersey's Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC) to study municipal governments 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 or departments, the question of whether to do so or not would be put to a public referendum in all municipalities involved, assuming those municipalities do not enter into a shared services agreement on their own. If the towns involved fail to either enter into a shared services agreement or pass the proposal by public referendum, 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.
"While I would like to have seen us go further with this bill in removing some of the barriers towns face in sharing and consolidating services, this is an important first step," says Kyrillos. "Tax dollars cannot continue to underwrite duplicative and unnecessary layers of government at the local level. New Jersey has reached the point with regard to property taxes where home rule is not justification enough for refusing to share services."
The State League of Municipalities opposes the measure for two reasons, according to executive director Bill Dressel. He says municipalities that are considering sharing services need the flexibility to retain the best qualified and most efficient work force, but r recent amendments take that prerogative away and leave local government entirely at the mercy of the civil service system and collective bargaining agreements.
The League has always opposed the idea that voters should be threatened with a reduction in property tax relief funding, if they fail to ratify a proposal advanced by a majority of the appointed members of a State study commission. Dressel thinks citizens should hold elected officials accountable, not the other way around and he's concerned that the bill would not require the State to hold local taxpayers harmless, in the event the projections of 'savings' prove incorrect.