The inherent problem with New Jersey's municipalities, school districts and counties sharing services to cut costs has always been rather obvious: Consolidation isn't going to generate significant savings for taxpayers unless some people lose their jobs.
No one likes to lay off people. Certainly, no one likes to be laid off. But government exists to provide the greatest good to the greatest number of people. And as painful as it is, the fact that some people will lose their jobs cannot, by itself, be the reason not to enter into shared-services agreements that save taxpayers money.
Gloucester County freeholders have voted to close that county's jail and pay to send prisoners to jails in Cumberland and Salem counties. Gloucester figures it can save $10 million a year starting in the third year of the consolidation.
Cumberland County freeholders have voted to accept Gloucester's prisoners, although the details of the shared-services agreement have not yet been worked out. Cumberland is facing a $12.5 million budget deficit and has a jail with a capacity of 550 inmates currently holding 440. Cumberland officials figure they can net approximately $3 million after expenses by housing 100 Gloucester prisoners at $100 per day per inmate.
Salem County freeholders have not yet voted on the plan, but that county also has a jail housing approximately 100 fewer inmates than its capacity.
Predictably - and understandably - members of the unions representing Gloucester's corrections officers and civilian jail employees oppose the plan. Three unions have filed a suit to block the agreement.
Also, some Cumberland County residents and Freeholder Samuel Fiocchi, the sole dissenting vote on the plan, are worried that the merger would somehow increase crime in Cumberland County.
Frankly, we find that concern absurd.
But the Gloucester jail employees, of course, are worried about being able to continue to put dinner on the table. That's a real concern. And even though they have been promised "first shot," according to the South Jersey Times, for any new jobs in the Cumberland and Salem jails and other public jobs in Gloucester, some no doubt will end up unemployed.
That's not a reason not to do this deal. But it is a reason to do it very carefully. And these Gloucester employees are worried that the plan is being rushed through. Many did not learn of the proposal until they read about it Sunday in the South Jersey Times - three days before the freeholders voted.
That was wrong. And all the counties involved here should slow down and make sure they are proceeding according to the state law on shared-services agreements and with the greatest amount of compassion possible. The plan sounds like a winner for taxpayers. But there will be losers - so make sure this is done properly.