By David Cruz
A conference in Middlesex County today brought together municipal leaders, residents and supporters of consolidation to talk about ways to get more towns across the state to consider becoming fewer towns.
They gathered in a small conference room off Route 18 in East Brunswick, close to a hundred people, including elected officials, city managers and local residents, at a conference organized by Courage to Connect, the state’s largest consolidation advocacy group. The aim is to share stories and ideas about how to make consolidation, shared services and mergers among towns, less scary.
“It starts to make the process more real, and we get their questions answered, so that they’re not afraid of the process,” said Gina Genovese, Executive Director of Courage to Connect.
Princeton, whose residents voted last year to merge the township and the borough, were the first towns in more than 50 years to vote to merge. Princeton Township Mayor Chad Goerner was at the conference, sharing the story of Princeton’s successful merger initiative.
“I think there are certainly opportunities, as you can see there are 566 municipalities around the state, we’ll knock it down to 565. But there are certainly opportunities that exist around the state that elected officials and residents should be taking a look at consolidation,” added Goerner.
State Senator Bob Gordon (D-38) represents Bergen County, which has 70 municipalities. He’s supported legislation to encourage towns to share services, but says laws are not enough. New Jersey voters need to undergo a cultural shift if the Princeton example is to be successfully replicated, he said.
“Unless we do something about the fragmentation of our government we’re never going to be able to solve the fundamental financial problems that could really do great damage to this state,” said Gordon. “This is very serious stuff.”
Gov. Chris Christie has offered state dollars to help pay for the costs of municipal mergers. Legislation in 2007 actually made it easier for local residents to go around elected officials who are opposed to consolidation. Courage to Connect is spreading the word that consolidation, mergers and shared services may be ideas whose time has come.