Bergen County Executive Dennis McNerney, in his state of the county address on Thursday, called on the state to "encourage -- with financial incentives -- the merger of towns with fewer than 10,000 residents."
"The surest way to significantly lower homeowners' property taxes is to merge small towns and reduce administrative overhead," McNerney said in his State of the County address before a small crowd of county officials and state legislators at the EMS Training Center in Paramus.
He outlined a series of incentives -- carrots, he called them -- that could be used to convince taxpayers that they would be better off with fewer, but larger towns.
He proposed a state pilot program that might offer multiyear property tax freezes and the doubling of a homestead rebate for residents of a new town created by a merger of neighboring towns.
If the carrots are large enough, and the reduction of the average property tax bill dramatic enough, McNerney reasoned, residents who would normally resist mergers might actually demand them.
"During a five-year transition period, as the new town comes into existence, all municipal, county and school taxes should be frozen at current levels, with the state agreeing to supplement the towns and school for any justifiable financial increases as the merger proceeds," he said.
By the time the state's incentives expire, McNerney said, the newly created towns would see savings from the efficiencies they created.
"A business administrator making over $100,000 a year to manage a town of 5,000 residents could easily oversee a town with double the number of residents of a merged municipality," McNerney said.
Bergen County has about 900,000 residents living in about 239 square miles. There are 70 municipalities in the county, half of which have fewer than 10,000 residents. By contrast, the 318-square-mile Middlesex County has about 745,000 residents and 25 towns, seven of which have fewer than 10,000 residents.
Consolidation obviously would benefit Bergen County most, as well as some of the Shore-are towns. Middlesex County also could benefit -- Jamesburg, in particular, would see improved and expanded services if it became part of Monroe (this is not a knock on Jamesburg, just an acknowledgement of the difficult realities the borough faces). Helmetta and Spotswood could be merged, either with each other or with Monroe, East Brunswick or Old Bridge, and Dunnellen could be grafted back onto Piscataway.
I'm not offering a specific plan, but it is necessary that we begin to think about these kinds of mergers so that we can reduce the number of municipal governments in New Jersey, cutting some administrative costs and possibly expanding some services in the process.
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