Merging municipalities has become a hot topic as budgets get tighter. Princeton Borough and Princeton Township successfully completed a merger earlier this month and Courage To Connect NJ Founder and Executive Director Gina Genovese believes the new Princeton will serve as a model for municipalities throughout the state and the country. She told Desirée Taylor 2013 could be the year of the merger because there is now a successful model for implementation of municipal consolidation.
Genovese said the Princeton consolidation occurred after four tries. “They were realizing that they were cutting their staff by about 20 percent and they were reducing their services that they were providing and they said, ‘You know what? we need to re-look at this to see if there’s a better way that we can meet the needs of the next five to 10 years,'” she said. “And by reintroducing the consolidation concept, they found that they could have savings for the next five to 10 years in their budgets.”
Although there are costs associated with merging, Genovese explained that the end savings are worth the initial expense. “If you’re going to spend $1.7 million to save $3.2 million or $4 million, who’s not going to go for that?” she asked.
Genovese said she believes this could be the year of the merger because of changing financial situations. “I think that we realize the small towns can no longer exist by themselves. Now we have a model that works. Here are the Princetons looking at each year in the next three to four years that they’re going to be saving money,” she said. “And it really kicks in the third year to the fifth year. And all the other towns are going to be at 2 percent increases, in the next five years that’s what they’re looking at.”
Elected officials often throw support behind shared services, but don’t want to consolidate municipalities. Genovese said sharing services can cause problems for municipalities in a way merging wouldn’t. She explained that the last three commissions in Princeton included sharing police departments and departments of public works, along with consolidation.
“All three commissions have said, ‘We need to consolidate the Princetons.’ And one of the reasons, Desirée, is if you have a police department and you try to share it, they have to then serve two governing bodies. And they don’t want to serve two masters,” Genovese explained. “So over the years in the reports, the Princeton police chiefs have actually said do not share our departments, consolidate us. You need to consolidate the town and then you can consolidate the police departments.”
Other New Jersey municipalities are exploring the idea of merging, including Fanwood and Scotch Plains, which Genovese said are appointing commissioners, and Roxbury and Mount Arlington.
“There are a lot of other inquiries around the state as well as around the country,” Genovese said. “I think that Princeton’s a model not only for New Jersey but the rest of the country and that would be great for them to make history once again.”
Courage To Connect NJ is continuing its work. “We’re just having a great time working with people to try to make New Jersey sustainable,” Genovese said.