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Top Dems At Odds Over Shared Services Bill [AUDIO]

State Senator Paul Sarlo
Kevin McArdle, Townsquare Media

The top lawmaker in the State Senate says too many municipalities simply refuse to share services because of home rule and that’s why he’s sponsoring a measure.

Unfortunately for Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Budget Committee chairman Paul Sarlo is less than thrilled with the bill.

State Senate President Steve Sweeney’s measure would require New Jersey’s Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC) to study local government units (county government, municipal government, school districts) to determine where taxpayer dollars could be saved through sharing of services. If the study shows that a savings can be realized through sharing that service in one or more local governments, the question of whether to do so or not would be put to a public referendum in all municipalities involved. If the towns involved fail to pass the proposal, they would be subject to losing state aid in the amount equal to what they would have saved had they shared the service. If one town approves it but another denies it, only the town that denied it would lose aid.

“It’s about sharing services,” explains Sweeney. “For years we had programs where we give you money if you would share. Didn’t work…..We tried the nice way of giving you money and people wouldn’t take it to share. Now, my approach quite honestly is the stick approach. If you don’t share we’re going to reduce your state aid. Then for the people in the local community, there’s no State involvement, there’s no State money. They want more expensive government? They got it!”

“My concern with any shared services bill and I think the League of Municipalities has the same concern because they oppose it, is the imposition of it on a town,” says Sarlo. “If the voters decide they do not want to share services in this particular area they’re going to get panelized financially. That is where I get a little bit concerned. Anything we can to do help break down barriers I think we’re all supportive of, but if the voters ultimately decide that they don’t want to share those particular services then I don’t think the state has the right to penalize those towns.”

Civil service rules would be suspended for employees impacted by any shared services agreement that is reached. This would address a concern raised by local government leaders that civil service rules serve as a barrier to sharing services. In putting together the legislation, Sweeney has met with dozens of local elected officials who provided input on the issue of shared services.

“We’ve got to shrink government and the only way we’re going to help taxpayers here is to shrink government by forcing shared services and consolidations,” says State Sweeney. “We as a (State) government should be able to reduce our contribution to their local government. Why should we fund government that could be cheaper?”

What if voters in town ‘A’ vote in favor of sharing services or consolidating, but voters in town ‘B’ shoot the Ballot Question down? Sweeney answers, “We don’t punish town ‘A’ because they were willing to step up, but town ‘B’ is going to lose aid.”

Even mayors in municipalities that want to share services with neighboring towns have often complained that public employee civil service rules are a roadblock. If one municipality is in the system, but the other is not, a merger is all but impossible. Sweeney says under his legislation, “Where you do a shared service we do away with civil service. I’m not saying the whole operation, but if one town is civil service and the other town’s not, when you put these two entities together and create one where one moves over to the other there’s no civil service.”

Bill Dressel, executive director of the State League of Municipalities applauds the majority of the bill but feels voters in towns that reject the sharing of services shouldn’t be penalized by losing state aid.

“We have to get away from simply waving money in front of towns and talking about shared services in the abstract in the hopes that a few will decide to come together,” says Sweeney. “The carrot has gotten very few nibbles. It’s time for us to break out a few sticks.”

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