There is a heated debate raging within our government at every level. Not as heated as the debates over toll increases or the State budget, but ultimately as significant. The debate is the one over the value and savings that might be had from our small towns merging or sharing services.
On the one hand we have our Governor and some in the legislature who argue that merging and sharing of services is THE answer to our intolerably high property taxes. On the other hand we have folks arguing that merging or the sharing of services won’t save enough $ to make it worth the work or hassle and will lead to intolerable, if not catastrophic, reductions in the government services we’ve all come to expect.
After having spent years studying sharing and consolidation of services I can definitively state that both arguments are wrong.
Most of those at the State level blaming our local governments for our high taxes are making that argument to take the heat off the branch of government they oversee. We must start out being honest – the main driver of our high property taxes is our State’s over-reliance on property taxes to fund local, school and county government. Certainly finding more efficient ways to run our local governments through sharing and consolidation of services can help. But we must accept that no matter how much consolidation of municipal government we do, no matter how many services we share, our exorbitant property tax problem won’t be fully solved.
On the other side, the folks arguing that because the sharing of services won’t solve all our problems the effort isn’t worth making at all, are just as off base. We as elected officials are obligated to use everything in our power to responsibly spend every tax dollar with which we are entrusted. It may be a hassle, it may take a lot of work for what seems like a little savings – but its part of our charge to leave no stone unturned in the pursuit of savings of our constituents’ $$.
There is a principle operating at every level of our government which I refer to as the “Danger of Diminimous.” There should be no brighter red flag for taxpayers than when they hear the word “diminimous” pass a politicians lips. Every single time they increase our taxes politicians break the math down to the point where they can make the argument that the tax is no big deal, only a few dollars per person or household – so small we won’t even feel it. It’s DIMINIMOUS.
Yet we all know that no tax exists in a vacuum. It’s the cumulative affect of all of these supposedly innocuous taxes, fees and tolls that’s driving us out of our homes – and out of New Jersey.
On the flip side, when it comes time to do the hard work, get more efficient, share services and save $ our elected officials too often try to tell us that the savings wouldn’t be worth the effort – that the savings would be diminimous. This is too often the refrain of the lazy politician or the one trying to safeguard his share of our $. We have to understand – there is no magic bullet. No single service we can share or merge – from schools to police to dog catchers - is going to cut our taxes by 50% or 25% or even 10%. But we shouldn’t accept this fact as an argument against sharing services. On the contrary, it should be seen as a mandate that we pursue all reasonable opportunities to share services. Cumulatively we will see savings that will be a worthwhile step toward more efficient government.
Our residents are desperately looking for some sign that their elected officials understand that they have no more $$ to give us. That we “get it.” It’s high time we did.