The New York Times published an excellent article (New Jersey’s Tiniest Towns Fight Push to Merge) on the push for municipal consolidation, particularly in New Jersey, but more generally, a push that is catching on nation-wide. In New Jersey, former Governor Jon Corzine signed a law in 2007 that would allow residents of towns to petition in order to start the consolidation process for their municipality. But almost no towns have consolidated since the bill passed — and the small town of Teterboro is now fighting against this.
Richard Pérez-Peña reports:
At 1.1 square miles, this town is smaller than Central Park — smaller even than Teterboro Airport, which spills past its borders. It has no schools, no police or fire department, far more aircraft than residents, and a bone to pick with the Census Bureau.The bureau estimates Teterboro is home to 17 people, making it the smallest municipality in New Jersey. But locals say the true population is at least 50, maybe 60.
Either way, many people wonder why it is a town at all, and a bill before the State Legislature would abolish Teterboro and split the pieces among its neighbors. That bill has stalled, but the idea is not likely to go away. And many other places across the state are ripe for the same treatment.
The town’s manager Paul Busch — who, by the way, earns a salary of $130,000/year — states that claims about savings from consolidation are unsubstantiated. But it’s a little hard to figure out how Mr. Busch can make that statement without a comprehensive long-term study that examines the costs and benefits of consolidating municipalities.
All in all, the pushback on consolidation — at least in New Jersey (but who are we kidding? The pushback is strong everywhere) — seems to be mostly political. As the Times reports, “The idea of combining entities often meets fierce resistance: it can cost local officials their jobs or political power, and many residents see it as a loss of autonomy or identity.”
So what are your thoughts on municipal consolidation? Do we really need these little fiefdoms? What are we fighting for? And with a conservative estimate of 60 people in the town of Teterboro, is each resident paying over $2,000 for just Mr. Busch’s salary (assuming each of those 60 people is a taxpayer — which I doubt)?
Sometimes, collaboration is necessary for survival. For some of Pennsylvania’s small or struggling municipalities, merging or consolidation is the only road to fiscal health and the return to a growing, vibrant community. Yet it used to be nearly impossible to do. Team PA convened 20 organizations to help distressed municipal governments by devising a better way to voluntarily consolidate or merge their services. Six months – and a few close calls later – a successful bill was signed into law by the governor, providing a new, easy, and more direct merger and consolidation process.
Just another step to success in PA’s municipal government system. Thanks, Team PA.
Dan Fink of York Counts tweeted this great story about the Berks County, PA experience in municipal consolidation. Apparently, the county’s planning office provides $25,000 to municipalities to help pay for merger studies. Here’s an excerpt from the story:
“We came up with this concept of developing a municipal merger program and paying for the study to help the municipal governments decide whether it was worthwhile or not,” said [Kenneth] Pick [Berks County community development director].
Three tiny boroughs have taken the county up on its offer.
They did the studies and merged with townships after their voters and the voters in the receiving townships approved.
- Temple became part of Muhlenberg Township in 1999.
- Wyomissing Hills became part of Wyomissing in 2002.
- West Lawn became part of Spring Township in 2006.
Richard A. Gould, former mayor of West Lawn, was a huge advocate for municipal merging, running on a pro-merger platform and effectively eliminating his own position after he won.
Before the merger, Gould said, small-town politics weren’t working for West Lawn and its residents. Property taxes were 77 percent higher than Spring’s, even though West Lawn was completely surrounded by the township and already using many of its services, including police protection.
Yes — someone actually ran on a platform that was completely selfless, purely for the good of the municipality and its residents.
The Twitterverse has been abuzz today with the news of the unanimous passage of Senate Bill 1429, which would streamline voluntary municipal consolidation with a home rule option. Now the bill moves from the Senate to the House. Read more about this latest news on Team Pennsylvania’s website.