Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Law Could Cost Towns State Aid

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Law Could Cost Towns State Aid

Article excerpt

The state could penalize towns for refusing to share municipal services with their neighbors if a bill approved by a Senate panel Monday becomes law.

Some mayors say the bill could wrest local control from towns and boroughs and maybe even destroy their local character.

But Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester, who has made the legislation a top priority, says the state can no longer afford to allow its hundreds of municipalities to operate all their own services.

If the legislation becomes law, a state commission will examine which services -- like police coverage, garbage collection or municipal business administration -- could be combined and how much money those mergers would likely save. The recommended consolidations would be put to a vote in the affected towns. If voters said no, the state would reduce its aid to the town by the amount the consolidation was expected to save.

"We just don't have the money anymore" to support towns that refuse to share services, Sweeney said.

New Jersey's 566 municipalities "cannot afford to do the same things they have done for the past 100 years," Sweeney said. "Because we are broke."

The New Jersey League of Municipalities, which represents the state's mayors, said it opposes what it called the "voter penalty."

Proposed mergers should be put to the voters, but voters should not be punished for deciding against consolidation, said Arthur Ondish, president of the league and mayor of Mount Arlington.

"To us, this is a fundamental position: respecting our voters," he said.

Brian Wilton, the council president in Lake Como, said the state should help municipalities find merger opportunities, but also trust towns to do what is best for them.

"The commission would be looking at it from a purely financial perspective," Wilton said. "You're not going to be able to pick up on these subtle nuances that the towns have."

But for all the municipal officials' concerns about losing their local control, the legislation passed the Senate's Budget and Appropriations Committee unanimously Monday. Both Sweeney, the Democratic Senate president, and New Jersey's Republican governor, Chris Christie, say it is a priority. …

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