A fight is underway in Bergen County with the freeholders voting to merge the county police with the sheriff’s department and County Executive Kathleen Donovan filing a lawsuit to block the merger. Donovan told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that merger proposals must come from her office, not the freeholders and also maintained that the merger wouldn’t save money but would likely end up costing the county in the end.
Donovan said there is no real plan for the merger and the savings claims of $17 million have been overblown. “The sheriff on Friday said it’s not really $17 million, it’s $11 million we’ll save and when pressed he said we’re going to save it through attrition,” she said. “You can’t do that because you never know when somebody’s going to retire.”
She also said merging the two departments is a bad idea in general. “We’re putting the safety of the people of Bergen County at risk by trying to do that,” she said, adding that the county police force has become a model for others in the state.
“We have things that the county police force does that nobody else can do. And in this time of 2 percent budget caps, the municipalities are beginning to look to the county to help them on a lot of things. And that’s really where you’re going to go,” Donovan said. “I could cut people’s property taxes by a third if we could begin to look at consolidations of things that we’re not looking at right now.”
Donovan said there are no redundancies within the Bergen County Police Department, which a study commissioned by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office found.
According to Donovan, there is no good reason to merge the departments. “There’s no plan. None of the proponents of it have said why we should do it other than we’re going to save money but they don’t show how we are. If they tried to merge, you’d have to pay Social Security, you’d lose millions of dollars in revenue that are coming in through weights and measures,” she said. “There’s lots of things that would show that there wouldn’t be any savings.”
Donovan also takes issue with the process. “In our form of government, it’s the county executive that proposes mergers in county government and the freeholders dispose if you will. It can’t originate from the freeholders,” she said. “It has to start from my end and I’ve already said I’m not merging the county police with the sheriff’s department.”
Donovan admitted litigation is an extra expense for taxpayers, but said it’s necessary. “I’m not starting this fight, but you can best believe that i will protect Bergen County from those people who would assail it. I didn’t start this,” she said. “I said when I campaigned two years ago that I believe the county police ought to be exactly where they are doing the kinds of things and sharing with other municipalities.”
Some have suggested putting a referendum on the ballot to let the voters decide if the departments should be merged. But Donovan said a referendum on the issue can’t legally be added to the ballot.
“Freeholders cannot just put on a non-binding referendum. They have to do it by ordinance. They did it all incorrectly,” Donovan said. “But at the end of the day, they also are lying, I believe, to the public because they’re trying to say it’s going to save $17 million. It’s not going to save 10 cents and it’s probably going to cost the county a lot of money to do this.”