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Sweeney Time to put away the carrot on consolidation

Senator, businesses want more proactive stance on shared services

Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney says his proposal for shared services would allow municipalities to maintain their separate identities, but would encourage them to reduce unnecessary government costs.

Commercial real estate owners could see lower property taxes from a proposal by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford) to induce local governments to share services.
Sweeney said businesses got some tax relief from the increase in shared services in Gloucester County while he was a county freeholder.<br…Commercial real estate owners could see lower property taxes from a proposal by Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney (D-West Deptford) to induce local governments to share services.
Sweeney said businesses got some tax relief from the increase in shared services in Gloucester County while he was a county freeholder.


“We’ve always heard from the business community, property taxes are taxes,” Sweeney said. “Any way you can reduce costs, makes a place more attractive (for businesses) to come to.”
Business groups have long advocated to lower the cost of government on businesses.
Melanie Willoughby, New Jersey Business & Industry Association senior vice president, said shared service can work alongside Gov. Chris Christie’s property tax toolkit to lower costs.
“We do feel that as part of any attempt to reduce the costs of doing business in New Jersey, we have to lower property taxes,” Willoughby said.
Sweeney said it worked for Swedesboro to merge its police and fire services with neighboring Woolwich Township.


Toni Beltz, who owns the Swedes Inn restaurant in Swedesboro with her husband, agreed with Sweeney that shared services lowered municipal property taxes for her business.
“The shared services have been great for us,” Beltz said, adding that police service has remained consistent.


However, she said, lower municipal taxes didn’t translate into an overall drop in property taxes, because her business’ school taxes rose in response to growing student enrollment.
Beltz said she would recommend other parts of the state consider shared services. She added that each area is unique, noting that a proposal to share police in Camden County has proven controversial.
“Whether or not it would work in Camden, I have no idea, but it’s definitely something worth researching,” Beltz said.


Sweeney’s proposal would require the state commission that recommends merged or shared services between municipalities to include an estimate of the cost savings to local government. If towns didn’t agree to enact the savings, the state would reduce the aid provided to the towns by the amount they would have saved if they had shared services.


Sweeney said his proposal would allow municipalities to maintain their separate identities, but would encourage them to reduce unnecessary government costs. He said the state “has tried the carrot” in offering additional aid, but now must consider using the stick to encourage the changes.
Sweeney said governments need to face the same constraints on spending that the private sector faces.
“Business does this every day of the week; they’re always looking at ways to provide the same product, but they want to reduce the cost,” Sweeney said.


The proposal to share police in Camden County has been resisted by local police, an example of the kind of opposition that shared-service proposals have traditionally encountered.
“When you propose to do something different and change, you’re going to meet some resistance,” Sweeney said.


Sweeney said the state must work to create an environment where sharing services is encouraged.
“It’s not just about Camden City — when Camden City’s crime goes up, it impacts other communities,” Sweeney said. “It’s a recognition that we don’t live in bubbles.”


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