Senate Budget Committee advances shared services bill

TRENTON – Before addressing the minimum wage bill today, the Senate Budget Committee dealt with other issues, including shared services.

S2 would encourage shared services, and clarifies the authority of the Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission to recommend the merger of municipalities or sharing of services. It was released unanimously with bipartisan support.

Senate President Steve Sweeney said there are many ways to save taxpayers’ money, and this is one way to achieve that goal, although it is not a perfect bill. Such shared service initiatives have been a priority for the Senate president.

Both Democratic and Republican committee members said the bill takes on added importance as towns seek to rebuild after the superstorm Sandy.

But Mount Arlington Mayor Art Ondish of The N.J. League of Municipalities said voters must have the right to decide the future of their towns. He said the vast majority of mayors want to save money but don’t want to see their voters punished if a recommended merger is not followed through on.

Another objection the League has is that the Civil Service system would be expanded, he said, when two differing towns merge.

A smooth merger of two collective bargaining agreements is unlikely, and will lead to mediation and higher expenditures, he said.

“This will have a chilling effect” on the process of saving taxpayers’ money, he said.

“The time has come when people are going to vote you out” if officials don’t do the right thing, Ondish said, but he said this bill, plus its amendments, would not have the desired effect of reducing costs.

But Sweeney said there are a bunch of mayors out there not trying to get the best use of the tax dollars.  “There are a lot of places doing a lot of good stuff,’’ he said, “I get it,’’ but the state is not flush with cash these days and it gets blamed all of the time for property taxes when many of the costs are local.

“We just don’t have the money anymore,’’ he said.

But Ondish responded that this will create the proverbial slippery slope.

Other opponents included former Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan of Americans for Prosperity, who argued on behalf of local governments, “the government that is closest to the people,’’ and against the unnecessary expenditures and studies that get in the way of local officials entrusted with these decisions.

Supporters included the N.J. Business and Industry Association and the Realtors Association.