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Little Urge To Merge

It seems to me that liberals in New Jersey are just a little too enthusiastic about municipal consolidation for it to be about eliminating redundancies and excess capacity in the provision of municipal services.

Sweeney and other liberal proponents are selling it as “eliminating government”.  Hmmm.  Something must be up.  Since when does a liberal want to eliminate government?  What I suspect is that it’s that liberals just don’t like the fact that there are wealthy towns and there are towns that are not-so-wealthy and they think that the people in the wealthy towns aren’t doing enough for the people in the not-so-wealthy towns.  But if all those people lived together in the same town.……voila!

I’ve been saying that if being big made for lower taxes then the biggest towns in the state should have the lowest taxes.  They have the highest taxes.  And a just-released Rutgers study bears this out.

In yesterday’s Press:

Consolidation combat in NJ – Local towns resist mergers as state turns up pressure

It’s been asked for decades: How do you slim down New Jersey’s notoriously massive property tax bills?

Cut back on the number of small towns, some of which are most easily measured in street blocks — or better yet, holes on a golf course. That’s the answer New Jersey lawmakers plan to pursue again this year.

And it’s supported by Gov. Chris Christie, who said during a town hall meeting in Flemington last week that “provincial selfishness,” as well as civil service and collective bargaining rules, are blocking towns from realizing property tax savings through municipal mergers.

But new data coming from Rutgers University could throw cold water on the idea that the savings from rolling together these small municipalities will be as universal as they are often touted.

The study, by Raphael Caprio and Marc Pfeiffer, challenges the idea that New Jersey has too many local governments. More significantly, as it relates to talks about consolidation and service sharing in the Legislature, the study found that on a per-capita basis, New Jersey’s larger towns aren’t any cheaper to run than the smaller ones.

“The data actually suggests that there are no significant differences in the cost per capita of municipal services, the cost per capita of local government and that consolidation is a term that only complicates things,” Caprio said. “People are assuming that consolidation will end in lower costs and it’s not necessarily true.”

Why look at the data when something is just such a cool idea?
This issue was actually the first topic I wrote about when I started blogging in 2009 and I wrote quite a lot about it in 2009 and 2010.
Here is an excerpt from a March, 2010 entry:
……….While consolidation may sound like it increases efficiency, a look at the facts shows no advantage. Many people from New Jersey move to Pennsylvania, which has much lower property taxes than we do. In Pennsylvania, 78% of the towns have a population of 5000 or under. In New Jersey the figure is 34%. If Ms. Genovese (a consolidation proponent I was writing about) was correct, then New Jersey would enjoy lower taxes than Pennsylvania The numbers are similar for many other states.

Even within Monmouth County there is nothing to show that bigger towns have lower taxes. Below is a chart with all towns in the county listed from largest to smallest 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. The numbers are similar state-wide. I would be happy to provide those numbers to anyone who requests them.

The truth is that small towns have many advantages aside from the great quality of life to be found in them. It is easier to privatize services without union opposition. They can have volunteer fire departments and that small town spirit inspires volunteers to do many jobs that larger towns have to pay people for. They can use part timers and generally pay even their full time staff less. Their budgets are much easier to manage and they have less corruption………


Of course many factors affect tax rates, but it seems pretty clear that simply being big didn’t result in any discernible advantage for the towns I looked at.

But actually my primary reason for opposing consolidation is that I’ve been to city council meetings at some larger towns.  (They go on forever.)


One Comment

  1. I agree with you 100 percent on this issue. There’s no proof that municipal consolidation makes local governments more efficient, and concentrating more money and power in the hands of fewer people will create more problems than it solves.

    Sunday, April 6, 2014 at 6:15 am | Permalink

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