© 2017 North Jersey Media Group
July 20, 2009, 8:10 PM
Last updated: Tuesday, July 21, 2009, 9:54 PM

Pressure to share

The budget squeeze in Trenton has put small towns in a steadily tightening vise: state aid has been chopped in half, but the 4 percent cap on yearly increases in tax-supported spending remains unchanged.

In some cases, the result is what Governor Corzine intended: consolidation.

And while Haledon, North Haledon and Prospect Park — neighbors, all with populations below the state's threshold of 10,000 — have combined some resources, they're loath to merge the big ones, such as police.

Haledon and Prospect Park have 15 police officers each, and North Haledon has 18. Haledon Mayor Domenick Stampone also notes that neighboring Paterson, which is 17 times larger, presents the small-town forces with big-city issues.

But there aren't enough officers for dedicated teams on gangs or drugs, and proponents say a regionalized force could change that.

At a recent council meeting, Haledon Board of Education member Jeff Fischer urged Haledon, North Haledon and Prospect Park to merge their forces.

"Not even on the table," Haledon acting Deputy Police Chief Kevin Gottheiner said of a merger. Prospect Park Chief Frank Franco declined to comment, and North Haledon Police Chief Robert Bracco could not be reached.

North Haledon Mayor Randy George said all his police officers are certified emergency medical technicians, which is not the case in other towns. He argued that consolidation would be a "disservice" to his residents and force them to subsidize neighbors' improvements.

But Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said sharing agreements can set "quality of service standards and minimum service levels." And with police chiefs earning well over $100,000, a merger could save a lot.

"People need to get off their insistence on absolute self-control," Fischer said. "They're not looking at the big picture of what's best for the taxpayers."

In 2003, Haledon Public School and Manchester Regional High School consolidated administration, making do with a single superintendent and business administrator, and got a more effective operation at a lower price, Fischer said.

"We were able to use the money we saved to enhance our academic programs instead of spending it on salaries," he said.

George, however, rejects consolidation of police forces unless the state "provides documentation that it would be cheaper."

Jon Moran, a New Jersey League of Municipalities legislative analyst, criticized Corzine's blanket approach.

"To penalize towns because they're below a certain threshold is ridiculous," Moran said. "Some of the most efficient, lowest property tax municipalities are smaller."

But, predicted Mitch Hanenian, code enforcement officer for Haledon and Prospect Park, "Eventually, the smaller towns will share their services because they're going to be forced to."

And while mergers do not guarantee savings, the potential is hard to ignore.

In Bergen County, Bogota and Teaneck are pursuing a feasibility study on a police merger. More than a third of Bogota's budget goes to police, but no official estimate has been made of how much could be saved.

Allendale and Ho-Ho-Kus have shared court administration for 10 years, and Allendale Mayor Vince Barra estimated $500,000 was saved. Waldwick and Midland Park may sign a similar agreement.

Prospect Park and Haledon merged library and code enforcement services and may combine tax assessors. North Haledon and Hawthorne share a garbage disposal contract. But service sharing has not gained as much momentum in Passaic County as in Bergen.

Many residents "would not want to lose their small-town identity, myself included," Stampone said. But he added he understood the state's desire to "get rid of some redundancies."

"Every small town has its own [police] chief, public works superintendent, mayor, council," Stampone said. "Do we need all these layers of government?"

E-mail: astor@northjersey.com

 

 

Pressure to share

The budget squeeze in Trenton has put small towns in a steadily tightening vise: state aid has been chopped in half, but the 4 percent cap on yearly increases in tax-supported spending remains unchanged.

In some cases, the result is what Governor Corzine intended: consolidation.

And while Haledon, North Haledon and Prospect Park — neighbors, all with populations below the state's threshold of 10,000 — have combined some resources, they're loath to merge the big ones, such as police.

Haledon and Prospect Park have 15 police officers each, and North Haledon has 18. Haledon Mayor Domenick Stampone also notes that neighboring Paterson, which is 17 times larger, presents the small-town forces with big-city issues.

But there aren't enough officers for dedicated teams on gangs or drugs, and proponents say a regionalized force could change that.

At a recent council meeting, Haledon Board of Education member Jeff Fischer urged Haledon, North Haledon and Prospect Park to merge their forces.

"Not even on the table," Haledon acting Deputy Police Chief Kevin Gottheiner said of a merger. Prospect Park Chief Frank Franco declined to comment, and North Haledon Police Chief Robert Bracco could not be reached.

North Haledon Mayor Randy George said all his police officers are certified emergency medical technicians, which is not the case in other towns. He argued that consolidation would be a "disservice" to his residents and force them to subsidize neighbors' improvements.

But Department of Community Affairs spokeswoman Lisa Ryan said sharing agreements can set "quality of service standards and minimum service levels." And with police chiefs earning well over $100,000, a merger could save a lot.

"People need to get off their insistence on absolute self-control," Fischer said. "They're not looking at the big picture of what's best for the taxpayers."

In 2003, Haledon Public School and Manchester Regional High School consolidated administration, making do with a single superintendent and business administrator, and got a more effective operation at a lower price, Fischer said.

"We were able to use the money we saved to enhance our academic programs instead of spending it on salaries," he said.

George, however, rejects consolidation of police forces unless the state "provides documentation that it would be cheaper."

Jon Moran, a New Jersey League of Municipalities legislative analyst, criticized Corzine's blanket approach.

"To penalize towns because they're below a certain threshold is ridiculous," Moran said. "Some of the most efficient, lowest property tax municipalities are smaller."

But, predicted Mitch Hanenian, code enforcement officer for Haledon and Prospect Park, "Eventually, the smaller towns will share their services because they're going to be forced to."

And while mergers do not guarantee savings, the potential is hard to ignore.

In Bergen County, Bogota and Teaneck are pursuing a feasibility study on a police merger. More than a third of Bogota's budget goes to police, but no official estimate has been made of how much could be saved.

Allendale and Ho-Ho-Kus have shared court administration for 10 years, and Allendale Mayor Vince Barra estimated $500,000 was saved. Waldwick and Midland Park may sign a similar agreement.

Prospect Park and Haledon merged library and code enforcement services and may combine tax assessors. North Haledon and Hawthorne share a garbage disposal contract. But service sharing has not gained as much momentum in Passaic County as in Bergen.

Many residents "would not want to lose their small-town identity, myself included," Stampone said. But he added he understood the state's desire to "get rid of some redundancies."

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