Sharing services between local communities is an obvious and pragmatic approach to stabilizing our taxes and maintaining a high level of municipal services our residents have come to expect.
As a result of decreasing tax revenues, a new statutory law capping taxes at 2%, and increasing pressure on local governments to provide services they aren’t equipped to deliver, new ideas and reforms need to be discussed and adopted. In my hometown of Haledon we have six bordering communities – Paterson, North Haledon, Wayne, Prospect Park, Hawthorne, and Totowa – all of which have their own police forces, their own Department of Public Works, and a slew of other duplicative services. Now is the time to begin the dialogue of shared services to increase our purchasing power, lower our costs, and, most importantly, pass along necessary property tax relief to our families.
The task of bringing together seven Mayors, seven sets of locally elected officials, and numerous community stakeholders in any potential shared services agreements is daunting. That is why I am proposing the creation of a shared services task force – under the umbrella of the Passaic County Improvement Authority – to begin the necessary work of hashing out meaningful, cost saving shared service agreements between our communities.
If we can begin the dialogue on sharing services now, during an economically challenging time, when our economy rebounds we will be better positioned to pass responsible local budgets offering new investment in updating our infrastructure, investment in our schools, and lowering our tax bills.
Once the task force is established the committee would undertake the task of sifting through the seven local budgets, identifying areas where services could be shared, and developing framework agreements to pass those proposals into law. It is nonsensical that we are not pooling our purchases of basic commodities used by every community; we are not receiving the best possible rates for goods we are all purchasing. Because of this we are wasting taxpayer dollars when better arrangements can be achieved with some local cooperation.
However, we must be conscious of people’s affections for the local community identities and develop a process for agreements taking in all perspectives and viewpoints. I love my hometown of Haledon and would not want to jeopardize our control over local issues, so I am especially aware of these concerns.
I would propose the task force be made up of ten members – seven officials appointed by the Mayors of the communities involved, a member selected by the Chairman of the Passaic County Improvement Authority, and two members of the Passaic County Freeholder Board from each respective political party. By bringing together a diverse group of officials and community leaders we can rid this process of partisan politics and work to deliver lasting savings for our constituents.
Now is the time to begin this necessary process. We need cooperation and compromise from everyone involved. Elected officials continue to talk about property tax relief, but are not offering real solutions to make relief a reality. Given Governor Christie’s 2% cap legislation, the pressure is on to either make wholesale cuts to local services or pool our resources to continue providing our residents with the level of services they have come to expect. This is not about giving up a local identity or local control of our communities; it is about plain dollars and cents. We cannot survive with the status quo.
If we continue to ignore the fiscal realities facing our communities it will only lead to a situation similar to Teterboro, where the State government swooped in and dictated the answer to the problem without any local input. If we want to maintain our local autonomy we must work together to deliver a lasting and sustainable answer to the problem of fiscal insolvency in our local governments.
We must overcome the short-term political ramifications and adopt long-term reforms that can put our communities on a more sustainable path in the future.
The author is the Mayor of Haledon