Of the many functions of county government, there is one that is more important than all the others. While we value all of our employees equally, whether they carry a broom or a gun, those County employees who dispatch our fire, police and EMS service in this county carry a greater burden and have a higher responsibility than nearly any other. To that end, they must be held to a higher standard of service and accountability. Confusing Junction Road in Hampton with Junction Road in Flemington on a planning document or when paving does no irreparable harm, but when alerting emergency services to a crime, fire or accident, it can be the difference between life and death. To ensure the well being of our residents, we have established new expectations and new measures of accountability on our dispatchers and our entire Public Safety operation. Reliability, accountability, uniformity will be, must be the hallmarks of Hunterdon County Emergency Services going forward.
As we enter the 2nd decade of this still young century, and I enter my last year in my thirties, my thoughts often turn to what my generation will leave to my children and what we have inherited from the prior generation. We find ourselves here in New Jersey and in these United States with serious long term problems. Every man, woman and child, Alex, Samantha, Michael, and Lauren, Hardy, Paige in Hunterdon County owes to some level of government nearly $53,000 due to our collective debt. $6,000 of that is our state government and $45,000 of that is to the federal government. Contrast those numbers to what we owe on average per person to our home towns, a mere $1,800 and to the County government, only $185 and one might think local government is doing well.
But to appreciate the true scope of our straights here in Hunterdon, these numbers are much more important. The federal government, a paragon of inefficiency and bureaucracy, has 8 employees for every 1000 people. The local governments of Hunterdon, County and Municipal, have 12 employees for every 1000 people. Over 1,000 jobs in our 26 municipalities held by 760 different people and another 600 county jobs almost each one earning a pension and medical benefits. Couple that with a 2% cap on the growth of local spending, and you can see where we are heading. In the next year we must make substantive progress on sharing services, consolidation of municipal functions and reallocation of local governance or as the New Jersey State Senate President, now former Freeholder Steve Sweeney promises, Trenton will do it for us or better put, TO us.
We in County government sometimes view shared services like a man asking for a joint checking account at a bank. When the teller asks with whom are you sharing your account, the man replies “Whoever has more money than me.” In this analogy, municipalities are coming to the County to share our checking account. But this is backward. The county has no money, municipalities have no money. Taxpayers have the money, government takes it and then spends it. So the question we need to ask is not who benefits, the County or the towns, but how can we take less money from the taxpayers, regardless of who does the taking.
To the end, I have constituted a Shared Services Working Group, elected officials who understand that the shortest answer is doing. As there is no money for studies and consultants, we will do the work to analyze what areas in Hunterdon should be consolidated and recommend a course toward smaller more efficient local government. Then we will lead by example and work to bring about these changes.
We have seen the start of this with our Sharing Services Seminars which will continue throughout the year. We have seen progress already from our first meeting in November. Annandale Hose Company and Clinton Fire Company have a regional day time response and are working toward shared duty nights. The EMS companies in the north part of our county are working on a new mutual aid model. We will next tackle education and reveal on January 31 the results of our comparative analysis of all 26 municipalities.
The County government can and must be partners and leaders in this effort. This is not something we can leave to the next generation to solve, the job rests with us. It is on the makeup of local government that we will be judged by posterity.
The offices of Freeholders and Mayors, Council and Committeepersons lack the prominence to bend history itself, but each of us can work together and change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts we can write the history of this County and our generation.