Should NJ County Governments Be Eliminated?
In New Jersey, there are three levels of government: state, county and municipal. But there is a move in Trenton to study the notion of eliminating county government, to determine if property taxes can be reduced by removing one of the three layers.
"I want to start the process of how we could possibly dismantle county government in New Jersey in an effort to save taxpayers money," said Assemblyman Robert Auth (R-Haskell). "Big government is expensive government. We have three payers of it."
Legislation sponsored by Auth and Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (R-Summit) would give the "Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission" 18 months to study and produce a report to create a process for the dissolution of county government in New Jersey. The panel would also include specific legislative recommendations.
"A lot of savings can be derived from that (dissolving county government)," Auth said. "It's not like I'm reinventing the wheel. They've done it in Rhode Island. They've done it in Connecticut."
The cost of New Jersey county government in 2014 was $6.5 billion, Auth said, adding that every function of county government can be performed by the state, municipalities, or other local units. The commission would have to determine how to reallocate county debt and service responsibilities.
There has been some pushback on the idea.
The head of the New Jersey Association of Counties said Auth is off-base with the bill. NJAC executive director John Donnadio said that while some residents might not be aware of it, counties provide a lot of services that those residents depend upon every day.
"County governments provide the delivery of all the human services programs, our social service programs, maintain our county jails, our county park systems," Donnadio said. "We maintain virtually every bridge in the state of New Jersey, but we've seen also an evolution over the past decade or so where now, counties are providing more traditional municipal services like police 911 dispatch, animal control services (and) public health services."
Counties also take the lead of cooperative purchasing of a variety of goods and services at significant cost savings to taxpayers, Donnadio said. He added there isn't a single service that a municipality provides that a county can't provide.
"We're only asking to take a look at it, and it seems to have created a fervor of defense," Auth said. "Let's see if there's a possibility of doing this to save money."