Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Kicking and Screaming

Regionalization of services and an interlocal spirit of communication and cooperation? Only if we're dragged into it kicking and screaming, according to the article in today's Times of Trenton:

For years, Pennington and Hopewell boroughs have refused to consider extending much needed sewer services to Hopewell Township, saying it would violate longstanding borough policies.
And the boroughs have all but turned a deaf ear to the township's repeated suggestions for sharing municipal services.
But a new era of cooperation may be dawning in Hopewell Valley, thanks to a legal maneuver the township used to put its neighbors in a more accommodating mood.
In settlement made public last week, the township has agreed to drop a tax appeal that could have spiked school taxes in Pennington and Hopewell boroughs next year. In exchange, the boroughs made concessions regarding sewers, police services, budgets and other key interlocal issues.
"This is major progress in terms of interlocal cooperation, no doubt about it," said David Sandahl, deputy mayor of Hopewell Township. "It's a shame it took a lawsuit to get them to sit down at the table."

What were some of the issues that Hopewell Twp. wanted to talk about? Well...

A major component of the settlement calls for Hopewell Borough to pay $349,500 for township police coverage this year, 10 percent more than last year. Borough officials previously refused the township's call for more money, saying they couldn't afford more.
"We had to agree to that if we wanted the settlement," said Hopewell Borough Mayor David Nettles. "It's what we had to do, so we did it."

Seriously, they refused to pay the increase for police services because they couldn't afford it. I wonder if that would work in my own finances? "Say, Shop-Rite, I can't afford your increase in grocery prices this year, so I just won't pay it. Give me my apples at last year's prices." I wonder if it works on the police officers? "Sorry, guys, you get 10% less pay for the time you spend in the borough. Oh, by the way, there was a traffic accident and a robbery in the borough today- hop to it." Bet they'd want to rush out right away to help!

Another settlement coup was getting both boroughs to agree to hold "substantive and good faith" discussions for providing sewer services to Hopewell Township. The talks would include service to Pennington-area neighborhoods with failing septic systems and a site outside Hopewell Borough being considered for a new YMCA.
The boroughs previously refused to discuss the possibility, citing strict policies that prohibit extending sewer service beyond their own borders.
"They wanted a discussion and we agreed to that," said Pennington Borough
Councilman Edwin Weed Tucker. "We don't have any immediate plans to change our philosophies but we will talk with them."
Well, that's nice. You will agree to have talks with them, but not actually to listen to what they have to say. Just lovely.

Why are we so married to the idea of Home Rule in Our Fair State, so much so that we have to get into lawsuits with our neighbors to try to cut our tax rates by sharing services? About a month ago, we were thrilled to hear that attempts were being made by Mercer County, and Hightstown and East Windsor, to consolidate certain services. It's a shame that message never made it into the Hopewell Valley.

More specific details about the settlements here and here.


Bob said...

Consolidation is not always efficient.

Sharon GR said...

Your post specifically points to a regional school district (where certain folks are certainly getting screwed,) but here, the Hopewell Valley already has a regional school district. This is for police services, sewer services, and other municipal benefits.

I happen to live in a regional school district where funding is unfair, with the smaller of the two towns paying more per pupil than the larger. While that does bug me and my wallet, I still favor consolidation of our municipal services- nay, our very municipalities- if redundancies in the system can be eliminated and their costs reduced.

Consolidation is not always efficient, but it does result in cost savings enough of the time that municipalities in Our Fair State should not be so terrified of the very prospect that they need lawsuits to even consider it.