March 11, 2011
RE: LEAGUE POSITION ON SENATOR SWEENEY’S SHARED SERVICES BILL (S-2794)
The League’s Executive Board has reviewed a draft of legislation that Senate President Steve Sweeney has shared with us. The bill (S-2794), which was proposed for introduction on March 10, would amend the statutes that created the Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC), and grant LUARCC greater powers and duties, regarding consolidation and shared services proposals. Beyond this, the bill aims to remove many of the impediments to service sharings and consolidations, caused by terminal pay requirements, employee tenure provisions and Civil Service statutes and regulations.
Senator Sweeney and his staff have been working with Mayors and county officials on this issue. A number of drafts were discussed and many of the provisions in the latest version of the bill reflect recommendations made by Mayors.
We share with Senator Sweeney the commitment to provide meaningful, lasting relief to New Jersey’s property taxpayers. His leadership in the promoting shared services is part of that commitment. By removing many of the roadblocks that increase the costs of shared services – things like terminal leave pay, civil service mandates, employee tenure requirements – many of the provisions in Senator Sweeney’s bill could reduce the costs of shared services and consolidations, produce municipal savings and promote relief for our property taxpayers.
Other provisions of the proposal, however, raise serious concerns. Accordingly, we oppose the bill in its current form. We sincerely hope that our concerns will be addressed by amendments to the bill. We will direct our efforts towards that end.
The bill would send a consolidation or shared service proposal, submitted by LUARCC, and not specifically vetoed by the Legislature, to the voters of the effected local governments for approval or rejection.
The most objectionable provision of the bill is found in Section 7.f. (on page 11). It provides that:
(1) If a majority of the voters of a municipality do not approve a shared services proposal, or if a municipality or other entity identified in a proposed shared services agreement does not enter into and implement the proposed shared services agreement within 14 months following voter approval, the State shall annually reduce the total amount of State aid allocated to that municipality or entity by the total net savings estimated in the proposal pursuant to subsection b. of section 7 of P.L.2007, c.54 (C.52:27D-507).
In other words, the voters would be threatened with the diminishment of future property tax relief funding, if they do not vote in favor of a LUARCC recommendation.
Beyond our confusion regarding the meaning of the term “State aid,” we must oppose any proposal which would, on the one hand, allow the voters to express their will; but, on the other hand, inform those voters that they will be punished, if their will does not comport with that of a majority of the appointed members of the LUARCC.
It cannot be argued that taxpaying voters who democratically reject an option offered them by an agency of the State bureaucracy should, thereby, forfeit the right to property tax relief funding. As taxpaying citizens of the State of New Jersey, they must be allowed the unencumbered right to determine the future government of their communities. And they must be assured equitable access to the benefits secured by their own tax dollars.
We, further, oppose the imposition of a Legislative veto of a LUARCC proposal, instead of vesting that decision in local elected officials. Every Mayor and every member of a local governing body is elected by and must answer to the citizens who would be directly affected by a LUARCC proposal. Those local officials are intimately aware of local conditions and concerns. They, themselves, as citizens, will share in the consequences – both positive and not – that will flow from the implementation of a LUARCC proposal. In the great majority of cases, those virtues can be ascribed to no more than three members of the Legislature. A decision that could have lasting consequences for taxpaying citizens should be vested in the democratically elected body that best represents the interests of those citizens. In this case, the Legislature is, clearly, not that body.
Finally, we question the need for a plebiscite on every recommendation to be promulgated by LUARCC. Again, local officials can judge the merits of the recommendations more expeditiously and more economically than requiring each and every one to go before the voters. And locally elected officials are in the best position to determine those instances when a proposal needs to go before the voters.
Capable, honorable and committed local elected officials, who faithfully and selflessly serve in municipalities all around our Garden State, need to be involved in these decisions.
Other, more technical, concerns with the bill also need to be recognized and addressed. We will work with the sponsor and with all interested legislators on improvements to this bill. We thank Senator Sweeney for allowing us to express our opinions on this, freely and openly. We appreciate his acceptance of many of our suggestions. But, until our outstanding concerns are addressed, we will oppose the initiative.
Please contact your State Senator and communicate the need for amendments to S-2794. Though it includes several provisions that would lower the costs of shared services, it should not be advanced in its current form.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Very truly yours,
William G. Dressel, Jr.