Towns should merge to cut costs, like police salaries | Opinion
By Gina Genovese
Every time we compare our state to the rest of country, New Jersey comes in as one of worst. Property taxes, police salaries, pensions and cost per student are some of the areas where the disparity between what we pay and other states pay for services is stark.
Recent news reports have highlighted how approximately 60 percent of our municipal police officers make at least $100,000 a year. This does not even include overtime and bonuses.
In three quarters of New Jersey's 565 municipalities today, the median police salary far exceeds the entire median household income of its residents -- which may include two salaries. This is unsustainable for those of us who pay these salaries.
Elsewhere in the country, police officers generally make 27 percent more in salary than the average resident. In New Jersey, police salaries are double that at 55 percent more than the average resident.
Is anyone alarmed by this disparity and more importantly what needs to be done to reign in costs?
What can the state do to make it fair for both police officers and we the taxpayers who pay their salaries?
There are ways that can reverse course and regain control.
Some very small towns, both in size and population, have already started to disband their police departments and contract the service with a nearby town. Although these efforts should be commended, the cost per resident remains very high and the savings are small.
So sharing police must be the answer. Unfortunately the current law that towns need to use to share police is unworkable. The joint meeting requires towns to create an additional governing body to oversee the shared police department. There have been multiple attempts by towns to do this, but none were able to manage this overly complex process and form a shared department.
Contracting police with the county is a another option when the county already has a significant police department. One town explored the option of the county providing police services. After a comprehensive report citing $5.8 million a year savings for their taxpayers, the mayor and governing body rejected it. So this option requires bold, innovative leadership. Maybe next time.
There are two towns that have managed to save over $2.1 million a year by reducing their police department from 60 officers to 51 officers while providing a far better service.
Princeton Township and Princeton Borough unincorporated their towns and created a brand new incorporated town. As a result, they were able to create a new police department as well. That included adding services, designing a more effective organizational structure, and -- most importantly -- negotiating new contracts for future officers. The new contact significantly increases the steps and time on the job to get to $100,000 salary.
The only way to achieve these savings, reduce the number of employees and bring innovative ideas on how to deliver local services more efficiently is through municipal consolidation.
How much longer can New Jersey property taxpayers afford to bear the burden of unsustainable salaries and pensions?
The only hope for local property taxpayers is when towns, school districts and police departments merge and reorganize their resources, buildings, equipment and staff to maximize financial efficiency.
Imagine the Garden State with 300 fewer towns, school districts and police departments providing improved services while costing less.
If New Jersey does not take bold steps to address this issue head on, then our best alternative is to put our houses on the market and leave the state.
Or perhaps we need a revolution from the taxpayers footing this bill to force elected officials to start working for them.
[Opinion Piece published on NJ.com here: August 14, 2017]
Gina Genovese is an independent candidate for governor of New Jersey. The founder of Courage to Connect, she is the former mayor of Long Hill and a small business owner.