The consolidation of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township is scheduled to be complete Jan. 1 after years of planning and Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner says the two municipalities will likely save millions of dollars per year. He told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that the towns have gone through a transition year and weathered Hurricane Sandy so he believes the foundation is there for a fully merged municipality.
“We stand poised to have a consolidated municipality on Jan. 1 so we’re very excited about it. We have a good foundation in place,” Goerner said. “We’ve gone through our transition year this year and we’re poised to meet the savings estimates and actually exceed them.”
Goerner explained that the consolidation committee set forth a three-year implementation and estimated savings of $1.3 million to $1.5 million in the first year and after three years, savings would be about $3.2 million annually. He said the finance subcommittee now projects next year’s savings will be exceeded by 40 percent and at the end of the three-year implementation, savings will be $4 million per year if the new governing body keeps all the consolidation commission’s recommendations.
Savings come from a reduction in staff, Goerner explained, since duplicated services are eliminated. “Many municipalities have a police force, they have administrations, they have engineering, etc. What we did is, we said OK, well what if we put our two police forces together? If we did that, obviously we have some overlapping and duplicative positions so we can do more with less,” he said. “And in doing so, on the police force alone we will save about $2.1 million at full implementation.”
Much of the consolidation work has already been done. Goerner said the municipalities have gone through the consolidation study, voters approved the merger last year and this year a transition task force began working on organizational issues.
“We focused on the things that we needed to do organizationally — physically to move staff from one municipal building to another, organizational charts for the various different departments and even minutia type things like our ordinance consolidation and what fees are we going to charge for dog licenses and things like that,” Goerner said. “There was a heavy administrative workload there but everything is really in place and we’re excited about moving forward on Jan. 1.”
One critical test for the consolidation was Hurricane Sandy. Goerner said there were many Princeton residents without power for two weeks after the storm hit and the area sustained heavy damage from fallen trees.
“Since we were moving forward and consolidating into one municipality, we formed an emergency operation center that existed to house our two administrators, our two police forces,” Goerner said. “We had a seat at the table for Princeton University and the school district and by having one single emergency operation center, we got our roads freed up more quickly, the university was able to interact with us more directly and solve a lot of the problems that arose.”
Goerner explained that many polling places were without power so both Princeton Borough and Township had to create an emergency plan for voters. He said Princeton University offered the gymnasium to serve as a polling location and also allowed use of facilities for residents without power to get some relief.
While officials in many New Jersey municipalities have discussed shared services and consolidation, few have made the move like Princeton Borough and Princeton Township. Goerner said those involved in the consolidation have made sure the process is well documented so others can get a better sense of what they will encounter. He also said he believes the consolidation process should be better promoted.
“We need to as a state promote consolidation and shared services organically from the elected officials on up. But the state needs to be there to water it, provide sunlight and fertilizer to the process and that hasn’t really happened completely. And I think what we need to do is not only track and use what we’ve done as a template, but continue to push for more flexible reforms in the law so that we can go ahead and see more consolidations take place,” Goerner said. “Because certainly with 566 — soon to be 565 — municipalities, there’s a lot more room for us to grow.”
Goerner is stepping down as mayor after six and a half years leading Princeton Township, but he is proud of the merger.
“I think we’ve done a very good job collectively with both governing bodies, our task force and our consolidation commission and we have a lot to be happy about when we celebrate our consolidation on Jan. 1,” he said.