Statement by Art Ondish, Mayor, Mount Arlington Borough
and League of Municipalities President
Presented to Senate Urban and Community Affairs Committee
Monday, February 27, 2012
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Senate Urban and Community Affairs Committee thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today.
Good Morning, I am Art Ondish, Mayor of Mount Arlington and President of the League of Municipalities. I am here today to give the League’s perspective on S-2 an act promoting the more effective operation of local government and sharing of services among local units.
First, we want to thank Senate President Sweeney and his staff for continuing to involve the League in the process. We share with Senate President Sweeney the commitment to provide meaningful, lasting relief to New Jersey’s property tax payers. His leadership in promoting shared service is part of that commitment. By removing or reducing 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 and hurdles to shared services and consolidations, produce municipal savings and promote relief for our taxpayers. These provisions of S-2 give municipalities’ greater flexibility to implement a shared service. No longer will Civil Service be an impediment to sharing services.
The labor provisions of S-2 give municipalities the tools to implement a shared service without the time consuming hurdles that diminish the savings. For example, when bargaining units are merged the current contract terms and conditions shall continue to apply to the members until a new contract is negotiated. S-2 would allow for the modification of provisions of the contracts that are adverse to the goals of the shared service.
The relaxation or suspension of the Civil Service statutes, rules and regulations gives municipalities the flexibility to create a shared service that meets the needs of their communities. Currently, a civil service municipality must follow the “last in first out” rubric when sharing a service. However, with the ability to relax or suspend layoff, transfer, seniority, testing, bumping rights and tenure the municipalities can create a pool of employees to determine which employees will be best suited for the shared service or joint meeting.
We appreciate the amendments that Senate President Sweeney has proposed to S-2. We support the amendment that requires that the Division of Local Government Services approve joint meeting budgets. We believe that it is important that Joint Meeting budgets have the same oversight as the municipal budgets they impact.
We support the amendment to repeal the police seniority, tenure protection for joint meetings to mirror the repeal for shared services. This will provide municipalities with the choices to make the best decision for their municipality instead of choosing the option with the fewer hurdles.
We support the amendments to change the language for the public question. This change will provide the voters with all the information necessary to make an informed decision. The amendment balances the public question and provides a complete picture of the proposal.
We support the amendments to require the municipality to certify or object to LUARCC’s finding to the State Treasurer within 30 days. This amendment will provide the State Treasurer with all the information necessary to make an informed decision. Furthermore, it provides the municipality an opportunity to present any objections to LUARCC findings.
We support the amendments to provide greater municipal involvement in the process. The amendment to require at least five on-site consultation sessions and two public hearings in each affected municipality enhances the process and provides for greater transparency. Respecting the State Constitution’s provisions banning unfunded mandates, we truly appreciate the reimbursement for any costs associated with conducting the hearings.
We support the amendment that LUARCC must focus its studies on local units that neither participate nor have undertaken independent shared services studies or negotiations. This amendment provides baseline criteria for LUARCC.
We support the amendment that LUARCC’s proposed shared service must be capable of maintaining the same level of service or improve on the service and either have meaningful savings or slow the rate of growth. This amendment will ensure that viable shared services are pursued.
We support the amendment that requires the commission’s report to:
a. Detail the current delivery service begin considered for the shared service proposal, including personnel, equipment and cost; and
b. Detail the cost, including personnel, equipment and cost for the proposed shared services; and
c. Provide options for the delivery of the shared services and an explanation why those options are not optimum ; and
d. Include transcription of the public hearings; and
e. Any other pertinent information.
We believe the inclusion of this information will provide for a more meaningful and through report that will allow the voters to make an inform decision
We could support S-2 if not but for the taxpayer penalty however that is a big “if not but for”. We must continue to 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 penalized if their will does not comport with that of a majority of the appointed members of LUARCC. This is a principle stand, respecting our voters and the concept of self-determination. Voters should hold elected officials accountable; not the other way around.
It cannot be argued that taxpaying voters who democratically reject an option offered them by a bureaucratic State agency, thereby, forfeit the right of property tax relief funding. As taxpaying citizens of the State of New Jersey, they must be allowed the encumbered 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 have been a long time supporter of shared services. In fact, the vast majority of municipalities are already involved in sharing of services. Many of them were initiated long before our current crisis.
There is no overnight cure to our property tax crisis. Shared services, consolidation or other cost saving measures are long-term actions where benefits/savings may not be seen for a number of years down the road. The vast majority of Mayors are willing to consider options, but do no want to see their citizens punished, if they disagree with the decisions reached by LUARCC. We trust the judgment of the people who elect us. Legislators need to trust local officials to do the right thing when the situation warrants, as well. And we all need to work together.
The time has come for public servants at all levels of government and in all local units to put our heads together and work towards a serious approach that will benefit taxpayers in the long run.
Though we oppose the bill, we thank Senator Sweeney for involving local officials in the development of this legislation, for listening to our concerns, for accepting so many of our recommendations, and for all he has done and continues to do for our property taxpayers.
That said, we oppose S-2.