Legislation sponsored by Senators Bob Gordon (D-Bergen) and Jim Beach (D-Camden) that would make it easier for municipalities to study the possibility of merging was approved by the full Assembly.
“Significant savings can be found through sharing services and consolidation, while at the same time still ensuring quality, efficient services,” said Gordon. “More and more local governments are coming to realize this. That is why we need to make it easier for them to implement shared service agreements and consolidations, not put up roadblocks.”
This bill stems from a grassroots attempt to gain approval to form a study commission to examine whether Merchantville and Cherry Hill can consolidate municipal services. Earlier this year, Merchantville and Cherry Hill undertook an effort to form a Municipal Consolidation Study Commission. In Merchantville, the residents collected signatures and sent a petition to the Local Finance Board, an affiliate of the Department of Community Affairs. In Cherry Hill, the town council submitted a resolution to undertake a consolidation study. According to the Board, however, current law requires the same method of application from each community. Consequently, the applications were rejected.
“Communities that want to begin a discussion on shared services or possibly merging should not have government stand in their way,” said Beach. “In fact, government should be doing everything it can to encourage these kinds of actions. By allowing a mixture of resident petitions and governing body resolutions, we are headed in the right direction.”
The bill, S2465, would permit municipalities seeking to petition the Local Finance Board for the formation of a Municipal Consolidation Study Commission to obtain board approval either through voter petition or application by a municipal governing body, in any combination. Under current law, the Board may accept an application only if each of the municipalities uses the same procedure as the other. In other words, all towns must submit petitions from their residents, or, they must submit resolutions from their town councils or committees. There can be no mixing of the two.
Under the bill, if each municipality submitted its study commission application through its governing body, any consolidation plan ultimately proposed would be required to be approved by voter referendum in each of the municipalities.
The legislation now moves to the Governor’s desk.