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It’s NOT Nice To Share! (municipal services, that is)

The idea of shared municipal services has been much promoted lately as a solution to the problem of high property taxes. Our state government, an exemplar of fiscal rectitude, seems to think that having done such a fantastic job with their own budget, they can now turn their attention to solving local budget issues. I guess if we do what they say, then we, too, can be completely bankrupt. They have not settled for merely giving advice to towns that have not exactly asked for their advice. They are trying to run our towns for us. They saddle us with all sorts of expensive mandates and regulations. Then they force their “solutions” on us through the coercive means of withholding aid to towns that won’t follow their budgetary advice, in this case about sharing municipal services. They punish those who do not do what they say and then claim that towns that heeded their wonderful advice (and accepted their reward loot) indeed have lower taxes! Amazing! It is important to remember that the money they use to bribe us came from us in the first place. Do you want to pay taxes so that your own money can be used to drive your behavior? And why stop at municipal budgets? How about family budgets? Maybe families should share too. Should the state require my neighbor and I to share one lawnmower? Think of all the money we’d save! Well I don’t mind paying more to have my very own lawnmower. I am also willing to pay more to have my very own police department.

When we vote for a mayor or councilman, we are choosing the person we feel has the best judgment and the integrity to make decisions for the town regarding hiring and management. We can not, however, vote for the person who hires the police chief or public works officials for other towns. If they make poor or corrupt personnel choices or implement ineffective management systems, they can be held accountable by their own constituents, but not by us. I, for one, do not want to be told that if I am unhappy with the way some service was provided that I have to contact some official in some other town. As it currently stands, I can talk to my own mayor at my own city hall a few blocks from my house about any issue regarding municipal services or employees.

Another problem is that of liability. Belmar would be responsible for any action, or lack of action, taken on our behalf even if we have little or no control over it. Recently one of our public officials suggested that Belmar could send people it arrested to Neptune’s jail and implied that he really didn’t care if something bad happened to them there.  This is unacceptable. We have a legal and moral responsibility to see that no harm comes to anyone while in our custody. We can not properly protect them if they are in some other town’s jail.

Shared services should be opposed for the above reasons even if it does save some money, but it is not clear that any savings would be realized anyway. If shared services would result in savings, then in theory larger towns would have lower taxes than smaller ones. The facts, however, do not bear this out. Below is a list, ordered by population size, of every town in Monmouth county and their effective tax rate in 2008.*

Middletown 1.498 Belmar 1.026
Howell 1.864 Fair Haven 1.565
Marlboro 1.701 Oceanport 1.452
Manalapan 1.667 Neptune City 1.695
Freehold Twp. 1.651 Spring Lake Hgts 1.124
Long Branch 1.443 Highlands 1.812
Neptune Twp 1.521 Brielle 1.257
Ocean Twp 1.418 Bradley Beach 1.159
Wall Twp 1.360 Atlantic Highlands 1.589
Hazlet 1.859 Upper Freehold 1.697
Aberdeen 1.987 Monmouth Beach 1.001
Asbury Park 1.438 Shrewsbury Boro 1.727
Holmdel 1.550 Spring Lake 0.615
Tinton Falls 1.497 Avon 0.857
Eatontown 1.717 Sea Girt 0.705
Colts Neck 1.331 Allentown 2.082
Red Bank 1.554 Sea Bright 0.999
Freehold Boro 1.836 Lake Como 1.258
Keansburg 1.868 Englishtown 1.694
Millstone 1.648 Farmingdale 1.628
Matawan 2.194 Shrewsbury Twp 1.982
West Long Branch 1.596 Deal 0.490
Keyport 1.991 Roosevelt 2.294
Rumson 1.132 Interlaken 1.005
Union Beach 1.896 Allenhurst 0.606
Manasquan 1.064 Loch Arbor 0.676
Little Silver 1.616

The average tax rate for all towns larger than Belmar is 1.626. The average for Belmar and all towns smaller than Belmar is 1.307. Every town larger than Belmar had higher taxes than Belmar. Nine towns smaller than Belmar had lower taxes than Belmar. Many factors affect tax rates. I am not making the case that being larger raises the tax rate but clearly it does not provide any noticeable advantage either.

Obviously, in the case of an emergency, towns should do everything possible to protect people from harm. I would expect a Belmar cop to stop an armed robbery in Lake Como if he or she saw it happening across the street. I also recognize the need to share high schools for smaller towns. There may be other valid exceptions too, but to maintain the quality of our services, the overriding concerns must be for home rule, local control, and local accountability.

One Comment

  1. Jay wrote:

    I agree that sharing services is not a silver bullet. It may help in some towns for some services while it may be awful for some towns and some services. If the state were to force towns to share school districts based on an arbitrary plan drawn up by bureaucrats it would be a disaster.

    If however several adjoining small towns were to come to agreement as to how and what services would be shared they may save money.

    Analyzing tax rates is very complicated. Small, compact towns tend to provide much more services while the more rural areas may provide next to nothing other than schooling. Plus the value of homes/land from town to town differs drastically.

    Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink

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