Two seperate bills under consideration in Trenton would allow for increased shared services to the over 1,000 governmental bodies in New Jersey.
The State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee recently approved a bill to modify the “Uniform Shared Services and Consolidation Act” to encourage and facilitate the provision of local and regional services through shared service agreements and joint contracts.
Legislative sponsors State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) said in a press statement that passage of the bill would generate taxpayer savings and promote government efficiency through greater use of shared services by local governments.
Savings for Taxpayers
“Identifying and implementing government efficiencies that will produce cost savings for taxpayers is more important than ever as we seek to recover from the economic hardships suffered by so many businesses and people as a result of the pandemic,” said Sweeney. “Property taxes in New Jersey are the highest in the nation, and we all know why.”
The proposed law would allow New Jersey’s Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC) to study municipal governments to determine where taxpayer dollars could be saved through shared services.
New Jersey is home to 565 municipalities, more than 600 school districts, 21 county governments and hundreds of authorities responsible for delivering government services, all of which Sweeney believes can increase their shared services agreements.
“We are a high-income, densely populated, high cost-of-living state with an economy competing on jobs and salaries with New York City and Philadelphia,” he said. “That’s why increasing shared services at the local level is so important and such a critical tool in controlling property taxes.”
Gopal commented shared services importance is of greater importance as local governments are striving to deliver services in the midst of a pandemic.
“We continue to look for ways to encourage shared services agreements, and support our towns and counties who are thinking outside the box in order to enhance services for residents through the efficient use of tax dollars,” said Gopal.
The sponsors noted the bill would make it easier for municipalities that choose to share services to reorganize civil service employees as they search for ways to create greater efficiency. Local government leaders have stated civil service rules serve as a barrier to reaching deals; the bill would expedite the resolution of disputes over civil service rules and tenure provisions in the context of shared services agreements and joint contracts.
Meanwhile, a bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Aura Dunn (R-25) in a bid to promote shared services was approved by that governing bodies Homeland Security and State Preparedness Committee.
The proposed law would permit municipalities with a population under 5,000 to hire nonresident emergency management coordinators. Under current New Jersey law, municipal emergency management coordinators must be municipal residents unless the municipality participates in a shared service agreement.
“State law needs to be more flexible so we can ensure municipalities can hire someone with the right skills to fill a critical role,” explained Dunn. “Just like the current pandemic we are experiencing; an unexpected disaster could strike at any time. We can prepare by having the right people in the right place at the right time.”
Municipal emergency management coordinators are responsible for planning, activating and coordinating emergency operations within the municipality. Duties include declaring states of local disaster emergencies and working with municipal, county, state and federal agencies, as well local police, fire and rescue squads.
“Some small towns may not be able to fill the role with a qualified candidate from within their municipal borders,’ said Dunn, who represents seven towns with fewer than 5,000 residents in the 25th Legislative District. “The person must have the experience and knowledge to protect the safety, health and resources of the residents and town. They need to understand all the applicable laws, work well with emergency responders and effectively respond to disasters. It’s a tall order.”