A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Regionalization and Aberdeen: Perfect Together?

I'm originally from Prince George's County, Maryland, where we had county police and a county board of education. When I moved here to Aberdeen in 1978, the whole idea of maintaining distinct town governments and town boards of education seemed overkill to me. And I'm still nonplussed at the morass of governance and the costly redundance of municipal services. Whenever anyone tells me they are fed up with the high cost of local property taxes, I just chuckle. What sane person would have so many superintendents of schools and chiefs of police? I'm sure it's ingrained in the local experience, but since I've not yet joined the Borg I exercise independent thought and balk at the concept before me.

The cost of maintaining duplicate infrastructures is finally overwhelming state, county, and local government coffers like a perfect storm. And with the economy tanking in the wake of the 2008 financial market failures, all levels of government in New Jersey are exploring their options to formulate practical budgets.

The affected parties are already starting to grumble and posture at the prospect of change. We're not talking about CHANGE a la President-Elect Obama, but change emanating from Governor Corzine and county governments. The trigger word for stakeholder hostility is regionalization, which simply suggests that there are bound to be cost cutting benefits to merging governmental services between jurisdictions.

When Fair Haven and Rumson, the first local NJ governments to explore the regionalization of police services, recently held a public meeting on the subject, they ended up with a local town hall full of angry police officers and their families speaking out against change. One parent even said the local police knew her kid personally. That certainly wouldn't happen with a regional force, I agree. No matter that the plan is projected to save millions, let's all fund her kid's personal Scared Straight program.

The NJ School Board Association, not yet ready to organize at public meetings, sees the whole regionalization thing as being forced upon them. They don't like it, but they'll consider it. A recent APP article, in unattributed background noise that can probably be laid at the feet of the spokesman for the NJ School Board Association, continues to lament how school districts are being pushed and forced to accept regionalization, even while quoting an Oceanport principal who is supportive of cost cutting mergers. Rumors have been floated that regionalization of school districts can't happen because superintendents are getting poison pill clauses built into their employment contracts that will make merging districts too costly.

Like I said, I'm inclined to see regionalization as a natural way to save money and standardize policies. It worked fine in a large county in the Washington, DC metropolitan area. We had forty or fifty towns and things ran pretty well as I recall. But maybe such a thing wouldn't work in Monmouth County or the Bayshore or with Old Bridge or whatever region you might imagine. But I'd like to see a plan before stomping on the idea.

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