South Orange Village President Sheena Collum made an impassioned plea to New Jersey Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Phil Murphy at the SOMADEMS forum last night to create incentives for towns to merge — and to penalize those that don’t seek to find efficiencies through shared services and other means. Murphy said he was optimistic that towns could achieve savings through shared services, but Collum expressed a clear opinion that such measures were insufficient. Murphy promised that he would support efforts for towns to study and enact mergers.
Read Malia Rulon Herman’s transcription of the exchange below or watch on video here. Collum’s comment starts sometime after the 1:31 mark and the conversation on the topic of mergers continues until approximately 1:35. (Find the video here.)
Sheena Collum: I would say that as likely one of the only mayors or village presidents in the state — one thing that I would like to do is to dissolve my own office. It may not seem like a typical Democratic ideal, but we have way too much government that is happening throughout the state of New Jersey.
SC: Ambassador Murphy … It’s tough to take a selfie with you and then to throw a zinger at you, but I’ll give you an example.
Phil Murphy: Hasn’t stopped anybody else so far.
SC: We were able to reduce our police department. I know you are very pro-police and pension system. We were able to reduce it but through technology we were able to actually lower our … crimes and increase enforcement.
Right now we are doing shared services with Maplewood where we’re looking at a fire department merger. Communities all throughout the state New Jersey should be looking at shared services and consolidation and ….
Oh wow, the other mayors are not going to like me at the Conference of Mayors tomorrow.
But I can tell you what it is – is little small politicians from smaller towns looking at self-preservation that is stopping drastic reform from happening from throughout the state.
It stops coordinations, it stops working with the county, it stops us thinking about tax sharing regionally.
And that’s the only way that you or any other gubernatorial candidate running is going to see real savings. Because all these other ideas that I’ve heard out there, you’re not going to fund the tunnel, you’re not going to be able to fund public education until you start seeing consolidations. Because 565 municipalities, more than that of school districts, we are not efficient as a state, and we need a governor who is going to make hard choices …
How did you like that, Ambassador?
PM: Listen, we talk about that literally all the time, all over the state. I had a meeting today at lunch. Someone said why is it where we are… And so you have to start with the fact that we have 565 communities and over 600 school districts. We have to be better than that. It’s not the way we would have designed it if we all started today.
And I said I think the most immediate opportunity, and I say this every day, is in shared services. And so I take my hat off to each of you. We need more of that. We need to find creative ways to incentivize more of that to happen. I’m a little bit more optimistic than you are, Sheena, but it can happen more broadly.
I’m not sure there are many lining up to dissolve their own office or to actually merge communities. It’s been done. It hasn’t been done often.
SC: It’s been done once. Princeton and Princeton Borough.
PM: Yup, and it was painful and took many years. It got done. I’m not optimistic that there can be a lot of that. But I would be absolutely happy with it. But I think it’s much more realistic that services can be shared – much more aggressively.
That said, if there are two mayors that want to study sharing a service, we will help fund that study, and if you then decide independently of your own free will to execute it, we will help fund that execution. We’re on record as saying that for two to three years.
SC: I will just close by saying as I’m walking away: Incentive towns that are progressive and are looking at efficiencies and penalize the ones that do not.