Congratulations - and good luck - to Buena Vista Mayor Chuck Chiarello, who became president of the New Jersey League of Municipalities Friday.
Chiarello is taking the reins of the organization in one of the toughest years in memory for municipalities. If one message came through loud and clear at this week's annual League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City, it was that towns need help - and, after several years of layoffs and downsizing, are desperately struggling to find ways to come under a
2 percent property-tax cap that takes effect next year.
The 33-point "tool kit" proposed by Gov. Chris Christie to help towns cut costs - including needed reforms in arbitration awards and civil-service rules - has stalled in the Democratic Legislature. Some Democrats say the tool kit would have little effect on property taxes. They're wrong. These measures are not a panacea, but they would undoubtedly exert downward pressure on New Jersey's soaring property taxes and help municipalities come in under their cap.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Salem, Gloucester, Cumberland, is emphasizing shared services, saying Christie's tool kit is largely missing that component. At a news conference last week, Sweeney indicated that sharing services will save more money than Christie's tool kit.
Welcome to New Jersey politics in action. A Republican governor and a Democratic lawmaker at odds over which long-needed approach to cutting the cost of government will save more money. Meanwhile, little is getting accomplished.
Sweeney's point is well-taken, and his approach is welcome. He would end New Jersey's carrot-only approach to shared services - that is, relying entirely on giving towns extra money to pursue shared services on their own. Instead, he would give the Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission - which now has the power only to recommend consolidation - the muscle to implement its recommendations for consolidating services such as police, tax collection and municipal courts.
He also said he'd support bipartisan legislation that would shift school administration away from districts to a countywide model.
Two excellent ideas.
But as municipal leaders emphasized so strongly last week, time is running out. They must begin drawing up next year's budgets. We expect our lawmakers to be able to pass several good pieces of legislation at the same time. The tool kit is needed. Civil-service, pension and arbitration reform is critical to bringing costs under control. And some of the same bills in the tool kit are similar to reforms that were proposed in 2006 during a special property-tax reform session. Get them passed. And that doesn't preclude passing legislation promoting shared services and consolidation as well.
Municipal leaders and taxpayers: Keep the pressure on your legislators.
And good luck, Chuck. It's going to be a tough year.