December 03, 2006

Let me share this with you

In September 2006 the County of Union held a summit on shared services in which officials from all 21 municipalities were invited to participate. Boards of Education were not invited to attend. The summit was facilitated by the Forums Institute and a summary they prepared of the summit was obtained by the Union County Watchdog Association using the Open Public Records Act.

According to the summary the purpose of the summit was to "facilitate an interactive dialogue with the county’s mayors and administrators to identify areas of potential shared or regionalized services".

Only 12 participants representing 11 of the 21 municipalities participated. And one of the 11 municipal administrators was the county manager’s wife. Fifteen county representatives were present including 3 freeholders. Some areas for change noted by participants were: Not enough municipal participation was mentioned three times; Need ideas to foster a better turnout.

Here's an idea: Switch the concept. Everyone knows that the County of Union has never saved a taxpayer a dollar. The municipalities run their governments with more respect for their taxpayers and their money than the county does. The municipalities should be taking over services from the county and keeping the money they send to them. And who knows, with the savings they might be able to throw a concert in town and treat their residents like VIP’s.

This past campaign season the incumbent freeholders didn’t mention the word “TAX” once in their campaign literature or their press releases. Their behavior has been indefensible and even they didn’t want to be associated with the money they are spending on waste and mismanagement. The media followed the county’s million dollar Public Information Department’s lead and barely mentioned county taxes.

County taxes have increased over 50% since the year 2000. What doesn’t get mentioned at all is that just prior to 2000, in 1995, the state took over the County Courts saving county taxpayers $17.2 million. But spending was only decreased by $1.2 million the following year and then jumped expeditiously every year thereafter.

One unnamed participant of the Summit noted the opportunity to network was valued because “true shared service will revolve from trust and relationships of individuals.” This comment smells like it came from a freeholder.

How can any municipal official with the intelligence to get elected, or put on their socks, “TRUST” the county government to take over their services and save them money?

County budget year/expenditures:
State takes over the county court system: 1995/$272.6
1996/$271.4; 1997/$278.7; 1998/$282.7; 1999/$288.2 …

The County of Union has never consolidated a service within its own government. If municipalities start paying the county to run their services there are a few things that are guaranteed to happen. One, the cost for the county to deliver the same services would be much higher than the sum total of what the municipalities currently spend. Two, the county would create a much larger work force and/or will add additional layers of supervisors, managers, bureau chiefs, and directors. Three, money collected from the majority towns would be diverted to the few towns that represent the freeholders voting base. Although I doubt even the City of Elizabeth sees an honest return on their county tax dollars.

We already saw the costly disaster that privatizing the County Print Shop has become. At one point the county run printing facility did printing for municipalities at an inexpensive rate. Now the bulk of the county's own printing is sent to an outside vendor. A campaign contributor who is located in Hudson County.

Union County in only one of two counties that have both a Police Department and a Sheriff's Department. We also have a Public Safety Department which the corrections officers who run the jail fall under.

The county even wasted money on their shared services “initiative”. They received a $104,500 state grant to study the possibilities of consolidating municipal services. They spent over $200,000 on a commercial and a mailer that was sent to every resident featuring a Freeholder, who just happened to be up for reelection just weeks away. The commercial touts county services that are already in place, like ball fields and Runnells Hospital. The county is now seeking another $298,357 state grant to spend on “sharing available resources efficiently”.

In the logical world consolidation makes sense. Most of the country has their services performed by a county system. But we are talking about New Jersey, the bizarro land of politics and government, where everything is backwards and upside down. In New Jersey we should do away with wasteful and redundant powerbroker controlled county government. The State would take over services such as the courthouse and the municipalities, which taxpayers have more direct control over therefore government is held accountable, would have the ability to maintain the properties in their own town.

New Jersey, with meaningful pay to play reform being only a dream, with ELEC laws that do not stop the county from spending hundreds of thousands annually on taxpayer funded campaign literature and commercials, with no ethics commission to stop county government from dolling out no bid contracts to family and campaign contributors, with no state oversight of county hiring practices, with little state oversight of employee benefits which have indebted us for generations.....yada, yada.

Handing this form of government more power would be disastrous to our fragile democracy here in Union County. History has shown this government has no interest in saving tax dollars, only generating more jobs, contracts and power.

View the report on the Union County Summit on Shared Services held on September 8, 2006 by clicking HERE.

View taxpayer funded shared services campaign commercial by clicking HERE.