Tougher Times Ahead For New Jersey Towns [AUDIO]
During a special economic summit at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, municipal leaders from across the Garden State were told additional belt-tightening measure may soon have to be taken, because the economic come-back is moving in slow motion.
Art Ondish, the President of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, and the Mayor of Mount Arlington, says the bottom line is, "It's just going to take a while for this to work itself out…And the municipalities are all doing the best they can to survive right now…we've already gone through the first and second years of doing the one-shot deals in real estate, and now it's getting down to the nitty-gritty - where procedures are changing- and unfortunately there's a down-grade of employment involved…It's a challenge- it's a challenge to meet the demands, and still provide the services without raising taxes."
He says, "I don' think any mayor - elected official - goes into office saying we want to raise taxes, but the demands are there and we have to meet the demands - and it's a challenge…It's like a forest fire; you wind up doing a lot of things and getting rid of programs and really reviewing the way you do business - you scrutinize it a lot more than you would if the economy was good…But we'll make it, we'll get through it - it's just a matter of adjusting and getting through this downturn."
So how will towns deal with less state aid, a drop in ratables and higher costs?
"I know a lot of municipalities are focused on energy conservation," says Ondish, "because energy is a huge topic right now…Also shared services opportunities- working with other municipalities, and even the counties - working as best you can to consolidate…Every town is realizing you've got to do shared services - there's no way that you can afford to provide all the services for each municipality - you need to share the appropriate ones that make sense."
When asked if more Jersey towns will be forced to charge extra for services that are standard now - like garbage collection?
He says, "It all depends on the situation - it's hard to say - no one shoe fits all- everything has to be analyzed and looked at and decided which is the best way to go…Traditionally the pace of change in government has been slow, but with the economy and with everything that is going on right now, government is being forced to make faster decisions in order to keep up and be as efficient as possible."