There have been two recent letters to the editor in the Hunterdon County Democrat regarding sharing services. One from Committeeman Spencer Peck (R-Clinton Township) and the other from Councilman Gerry St. Onge (D-Frenchtown) encouraging more sharing, but in particular sharing police, fire and EMS. Mr. Peck has called for the County of Hunterdon to take over Police for all 26 municipalities. This has been seized on by others calling for the Sheriff to be the County Police Chief.
First, the County should not be coming down on municipalities with an edict any more than the State. Mandates are just as bad when they come from Flemington as when they come from Trenton. Second, studies are often performed but rarely implemented. Especially in this economy, government cannot engage in fruitless endeavors. And that is exactly what any study of County wide police in Hunterdon would amount to without buy in from two very different groups of municipalities: those that get State Police protection at no impact on municipal budgets and those that pay for local Police from municipal tax revenue. The former are getting something for "free" and the latter enjoy a relatively high level of service.
We have seen Police Departments closed in Califon and Lebanon in recent years opting for sharing with a neighboring community and State Police respectively but Flemington experienced a citizens revolt when it was revealed consolidating Police services was being discussed. So far, we have one township and one Councilman calling for abolishing local police in favor of a county model.
At this point it is my opinion that the County can serve as a facilitator in ascertaining the level of desire for such an arraignment. A Police Summit for elected officials could be a good first step.
Some threshold questions that such a summit should reveal:
- How many towns believe their residents are ready to have a lower level of service in exchange for lower municipal budgets?
- Would municipalities with police departments cut there budgets by a commensurate amount if the County created a Hunterdon Police department? In other words if a town's budget is 25% police, would it cut spending 25% or just spend that money elsewhere.
- Are there any towns whose residents are willing to see taxes rise in exchange for a County Police force and perhaps a better level of service?
Whatever we do, continuing what we are now doing is not working and we in County elected office need to be willing to help our municipal partners better how we deliver services.
More later on Fire Companies, EMS and Schools sharing.