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Common Sense Was Right

The original readers of this blog (all five of them) will remember that my original targets were the proponents of the forced consolidation of New Jersey’s small towns.  For the first few months at least half of my writing was on this topic.  Despite the rhetoric coming from liberal Democrats like Chris Christie and Steve Sweeney, and from advocates like the group “Courage to Connect”, I could plainly see it as a scam.  It was a way to blame the taxpayers themselves for high property taxes instead of putting blame where it really belongs, which is union control of our politicians, unfunded mandates from Trenton, the unfair way that state property tax relief is distributed and corruption in its various manifestations.

It was also a way to decrease our representation by having more constituents per elected official.  Having a small number of governments is not the same as having small government as the consolidationists tried to get us to believe.  Actually, having a large number of governments is a way to keep those governments small.  For example, I wouldn’t consider Newark to be a small government town just because there’s only one government in Newark.  It’s the smaller towns that actually have less government.

Just for old times’ sake I present a screen shot from my very first story, posted December 6, 2009.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 5.45.02 AM

I may have been right, according to this just-released study:

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Click on the image to read the report.

NJSpotlight has an excellent summary of the study.  Here are a couple of highlights:

Rutgers analysts question ‘conventional wisdom’ that consolidation of state’s 565 municipalities would produce property tax savings

………………….In a study entitled “Size May Not Be The Issue,” Caprio and Pfeiffer noted that the wealthiest suburbs and poorest cities have the highest cost of local government services, reflecting the willingness of affluent taxpayers to pay for a higher level of services and the greater need of poorer populations for more police protection and social services that are paid for primarily with state aid.

Meanwhile, rural communities with low populations that are often considered prime targets for municipal consolidation have the lowest-cost municipal government services per person in the state — directly countering the assumption that “consolidation of small, inefficient municipalities” would lower property taxes, the study said.

“We may need to rethink the conventional wisdom that forcing municipalities into larger organizations will be more effective, more efficient, and/or less costly,” Caprio and Pfeiffer concluded. “It should also give pause as to whether we should be advocating with uncompromising vigor that consolidation of municipalities is a solution to the state’s high property-tax problem.”

The Caprio-Pfeiffer analysis runs directly counter to the arguments advanced by Republican Gov. Chris Christie that municipal consolidation — starting with the merger of his hometown of Mendham Township and neighboring Mendham Borough — makes sense, and the push by Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) to take a “big stick” approach to shared services by forcing municipalities to adopt cost-saving shared services or face a loss in state aid…………………….

………………………Their analysis concluded that previous studies suggesting that smaller municipalities are inherently inefficient — and, therefore, that municipalities with fewer than 2,000 residents should be encouraged or forced to merge, as former Assembly Speaker Alan Karcher once urged — were skewed by statistical analyses that included resort municipalities. These 50 Shore towns have disproportionately high per capita costs for municipal services not because they are inefficient, but because their year-round population is low and they have to spend a lot on police and other services for the thousands of tourists who flood in every summer.

With the Shore towns excluded, the cost of municipal services per person in municipalities with less than 3,600 residents is not appreciably different for municipalities with 11,500 to 40,600 residents — and lower than the cost for cities and suburbs with more than 40,600 residents that make up the top 10 percent of municipalities by population…………………..

………………The study also questions the validity of the often-cited statistic that “New Jersey has more municipalities per square mile than any other [state] in the country,” which is used to justify the “folk hypothesis” that New Jersey has “too many municipalities and too much government.”

That statistic, however, simply reflects New Jersey’s status as the most densely populated state in the country, Caprio and Pfeiffer noted. With 15.6 government units per 10,000 population, New Jersey actually has about half as much government as the national average, and lags just behind New York (17.7 government units per 10,000 residents) and far behind both Pennsylvania (38.5) and Delaware (37.2).

In fact, New Jersey ranks just 34th in the nation in the number of general governments per capita, the study pointed out.

Groups like Courage to Connect NJ have held up the recent consolidation of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township as evidence of potential cost savings and service improvements that can be achieved through municipal mergers.

However, Caprio and Pfeiffer assert that the fact that the Princetons were the first successful consolidation since Vineland and Landis Township merged in the early 1950s shows that New Jerseyans do not believe mergers will save money. The problem is that both municipalities need to save money for a merger to go through, and the anticipated cost savings are usually smaller than the increased taxes that the more affluent of the two municipalities will incur………………

BTW, the high per-capita cost of services in resort towns should be offset by the fact that half the properties in towns like Belmar are summer homes whose owners pay full property tax but use significantly fewer services than year round residents.


  1. VITO CORLEONE wrote:

    It is not how many people in gvt….It is what they get paid plus all the pensions, free health care, paid vacatiosn etc

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 7:29 am | Permalink
  2. Teddy Ehmann wrote:

    Spot On As Always…A friend of mine from the 80’s Kirkpatrick Sale wrote an important work entitled ” Human Scale”, I have been advocating for this book to be reprinted.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 7:42 am | Permalink
  3. guest wrote:

    Admin…this is very insightful and an excellent analysis. It changed my opinions of consolidation. Thank you!

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink
  4. Guest wrote:

    Shared police forces for these one mile towns, less Chiefs retiring at 100k each for life and lifetime free dental medical eyeglass, oh yeah and then they move to tax free pension states!

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 8:31 am | Permalink
  5. admin wrote:

    Towns should be free to enter into shared services agreements if it’s voluntary for both sides. What I object to is the state threatening to use coercion against municipalities that don’t do what they say.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 9:06 am | Permalink
  6. george wrote:

    It doesn’t change the ridiculous salaries and pensions these “school superintendents” receive that’s obscene and the sheeple go along with it.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 9:40 am | Permalink
  7. Teddy Ehmann wrote:

    You are spot on. I am a retired Public school teacher. There is a great deal of reform needed in this area. Educational reform in NJ is one of my pet projects. Because of the incredible number of school districts per capita in our state, this is one area ripe for change. Glad you will be onboard.

    Tuesday, November 18, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink
  8. Cathi De Genova wrote:

    “BTW, the high per-capita cost of services in resort towns should be offset by the fact that half the properties in towns like Belmar are summer homes whose owners pay full property tax but use significantly fewer services than year round residents.” – For some towns it must be wonderful to have those additional property taxes not taken up by added cost of police and services provided to one or two “attractions”.

    Wednesday, November 19, 2014 at 6:27 am | Permalink

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