Atlantic County Court Consolidation Plan Has Hit Crunch Time
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson has been working on the issue of consolidation of various municipal expenses for more than two decades.
There is an opportunity that presently exists that can save Atlantic County Municipalities considerable tax dollars.
There’s only one “catch.” This is not a Dictatorship. The 23 Municipalities have free will. Levinson has led them. It’s up to each town to decide. Keep the status quo. Or, embrace change.
Change is never easy to make or accept. It’s always easier to resist it, in favor of keeping things the way they are.
To date, two of the three large growth areas (Egg Harbor Township and Galloway Township) are on board.
Hamilton Township Mayor Charles Cain has not tipped his “playing cards.” They could go either way. They may join, or, they may remain separate.
Prior to the County consolidation plan taking shape, Hamilton Township was looking into a mini consolidation plan of their own, by having a few neighboring cities poised to consolidate with Hamilton Township.
If Cain and his colleagues decide to join the Atlantic County plan, it’s almost certain that the County plan will be implemented.
If Hamilton Township joins, several more municipalities will follow.
Levinson confirmed that to date “only six of Atlantic County’s 23 towns have made the commitment. They include Egg Harbor Township, Galloway Township, Linwood, Weymouth Township, Estell Manor and Ventnor.”
“According to an 11-town pro forma, Egg Harbor Township would save over $450,000 annually, Galloway would save $235,000 a year and Ventnor would save $225,000, to cite just a few examples,” said Levenson.
Atlantic County Counsel James Ferguson has done a very nice job meeting with various towns and recently did a comprehensive on-air interview with us on “Hurley in the Morning” on WPG Talk Radio 95.5
Atlantic County Government has done an excellent job making the case for consolidation.
Also, the County is providing an opt out clause after just two years in the program, in case there is buyers remorse.
This reminds me a lot like the Joint Insurance Fund (JIF). Decades ago, many towns fought joining forces together, until it became self evident that the savings would be substantial.
That was the right thing to do then. This is right thing to do now.
The idea of consolidation of services, purchasing and operations has always been well received in theory. But, almost every time it gets close to realization … “Home Rule” gets smack in the way.
Most really like the idea. That is until they realize that they are forfeiting their own localness and control.
“It appears many towns are more interested in maintaining status quo than attaining significant savings,” stated county Executive Dennis Levinson. “Despite our full transparency in providing the cost savings, months of public presentations and discussions with municipal officials, explaining the proposal on multiple radio broadcasts and making ourselves accessible to answer any and all questions, there are still some who balk. At this point, the towns can come to us if they’re truly interested. There’s nothing more we can do.”
“This proposal is based on economies of scale so the more towns that participate, the greater the savings,” he said. “Conversely, if only a handful of towns come in, it may not be worthwhile. Unless we have cooperation, this will not happen. This is a voluntary program. The county cannot force towns to participate. We’re not interested in power or control; we are looking to provide savings to the residents of the highest taxed state in the country.”
The county obtained current court costs from the towns, some willingly and others not. A few towns had to receive an Open Public Records Act request before responding and some still never responded.
“It’s confounding,” admitted Levinson. “Elected officials say they want to reduce costs and duplication but when push comes to shove, that’s not always true.
Atlantic City was the first to reply, last October, stating it was not interested before it ever saw a cost comparison or heard details of the plan.
“It’s interesting and very telling that the State of New Jersey, which has complete control of Atlantic City, inexplicably was the first to decline,” noted Levinson.
Levinson explained that this is new territory. “A countywide municipal court system does not yet exist in New Jersey. Senate President Steve Sweeney has been extremely cooperative by introducing legislation to make this possible,” confirmed levinson.
“This is an opportunity for Atlantic County to once again be in the forefront, serving as a model for the rest of the state in consolidating services for the benefits of its taxpayers.”
“We want to have the new court system up and running by January 2022. The longer these towns drag their feet the more difficult that timeline becomes,” he said.
“The consolidated court proposal has extraordinary merit. We’ve addressed all the concerns, including travel and police overtime, but it never seems to be enough,” said Levinson. “The ball is now in their court.”
SOURCES: Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, Hamilton Township Mayor Charles Cain & Atlantic County Counsel James Ferguson.
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