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Plans would promote merging towns to save money
Plans would promote merging towns to save money
10/5/2006 Asbury Park Press
The rough outlines of some of the plans intended to chip away at New Jersey's property tax burden became clearer Wednesday as lawmakers discussed bills that would promote merging towns and consolidating government.
Much of the focus remained on a proposal being pushed by Sen. Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr., R-Monmouth, to create a special commission that would recommend municipal mergers, but a key lawmaker called for a tweak that could alter the bill's impact.
Sen. Bob Smith, D-Middlesex, the co-chairman of a committee examining government consolidation, endorsed the plan but said any mergers should come up for a public vote. Kyrillos' original plan mandated the mergers, if they were approved by the Legislature in an up-or-down vote, no changes allowed.
Kyrillos' plan and several others that came up for debate Wednesday are the first concrete proposals to emerge from the four committees that have been examining property tax reform for the past two months.
Many people blame New Jersey's 566 municipalities for creating layers of bureaucracy that inflate the cost of government.
"We have got to do what the American private sector and everybody, all our constituents know intuitively when they go into a Costco on weekends to shop with their families, that there are efficiencies and economies of scale when we merge together," Kyrillos said.
Representatives for the local governments, however, said bigger municipalities don't always mean better government.
"I don't know what he thinks the impact of that's going to be. I don't know what is going to be the quality of services. I don't know what the cost savings is going to be," said William Dressel Jr., executive director of the State League of Municipalities.
The thinking behind Kyrillos' plan is that an independent panel, free from emotional or political ties to certain towns, would be more likely to take a hard, unbiased look at the best way to run local government.
Smith said voters, not the commission, should make the final decision on whether or not mergers make sense.
"The guiding principle should be that New Jersey citizens should have the government that they want and that they are willing to pay for," Smith said.
Other plans discussed Wednesday would:
Provide enhanced property tax rebates to homeowners in towns that merge or share services.
Put spending caps on fire districts, whose bills make up a piece of the property tax burden, and eliminate a public vote on fire district budgets.
Have fire district elections coincide with November elections, when voter turnout is higher.
Put the state's 21 county governments in charge of tax assessing and collection, animal control and public health.
Encourage government efficiency standards by providing state aid to towns based on performance measures instead of a formula.
Smith said the overriding goal is to reduce the layers of government.
It's unclear exactly how much each plan could save taxpayers. They are likely to be pieces of a larger proposal to address the state's property tax burden.
Senate President Richard J. Codey, D-Essex, recently ruled out, however, talk of taxing businesses at a different rate than homes in order to shift the tax burden.
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