TRENTON – The Senate passed a bill championed by Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) of West Deptford, that provides towns incentives to share services to pare costs and ultimately save money for taxpayers, or risk losing funds.
The bill, S2, would encourage municipalities to share services, according to recommendations from the state Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC), which is part of the Department of Community Affairs. If not agreed to, the town refusing to share services with another town would be penalized by having their state aid withheld, the bill states.
The vote was 25-9.
One senator, Steve Oroho, was concerned that could lead to less shared services due to differences between civil-service towns and those without it. He said it could lead to “unintended consequences.”
Sen. Joe Kyrillos (R-13) of MIddletown, a co-sponsor, said the bill is a move in the right direction.
“There needs to be efficiencies,” Kyrillos said. “There needs to be economies of scale.”
But Sen. Sam Thompson said he was concerned about language in the bill that prohibits LUARCC from looking at towns that already are sharing services, before looking at ones that don’t have any. Nonetheless, he voted in favor of it, expecting it to be tweaked.
At a February Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, Sweeney said “There’s enormous savings to be had if we just look beyond our own borders. We have too much government.” He said at the time the “carrot” approach of providing incentives hasn’t worked, simply because towns just didn’t feel like entering into them.
“We are a home rule state and that’s what we’re fighting against,” he said at the time. At that same committee hearing, Sweeney said his own home county of Gloucester serves as a model, since all 24 towns entered into a countywide police dispatch system. He added that 16 of the 24 towns have also signed on to county-run EMT services.
The Office of Legislative Services could not determine the financial impact of any such mergers due to unknowns: impact of union contracts, and potential loss of state aid if a town refuses a LUARCC recommendation.