Sunday, September 30, 2012

Studies: When Warranted Not Wantonly

A resident last week wrote of his frustration that the county has not engaged in multiple studies on a host of issues.  He chided the Board of Chosen Freeholders for failing to reduce the cost of government.  First, we Freeholders have cut the budget and taxes four years in a row, lowering the cost of government.  Secondly, we have investigated multiple shared services avenues and taken action to move forward on a number of these items.
The issues that the writer wants studied included police, fire, EMS, schools, tax collection and tax assessment.  In reverse order, tax assessment cannot be reallocated to the county by statute.  Our Shared Services Working Group including Assemblywoman Donna Simon, investigated the pilot project in Gloucester County.  Based on their success, we determined that Hunterdon County could potentially save $1 million on our $2 million dollar county wide expenditure.  This need not be studied.  Once the State changes the law, Hunterdon can act.
Tax collection, which is similar in scope to assessment, is also by statute to be done by municipalities as they are the tax collection agency for all local governments.  Changing the tax collector to a county function would require several law changes.  Similar savings could likely be realized.  Again, no study is necessary, what is required is action in Trenton to allow us to make these changes.
Schools have been the subject of a several month long analysis that has been written about in several newspapers. Raritan Township Committeeman John King and I, along with several community members have developed a request for proposal for the county to issue to study school consolidation.   Before diving into a study, we did a lot of examination on the educational improvements and financial benefits of regionalized and/or a county wide school.  A study of this magnitude is not something to be jumped into wantonly.  We have been taking a thoughtful approach before moving forward.
EMS and fire service could serve as an example to all government agencies in cooperation and regionalization.  These services are already dispatched by the county, training is largely done by the county, and through their respective Chiefs’ Associations, they coordinate response policies on a county wide basis.  Structure fires get responses from multiple companies with several resources, thus no one company has to fund and staff the full array of equipment needed to properly fight a fire.  EMS agencies coordinate in a similar fashion.  Recent policy changes coordinated with Hunterdon County Communications resulted in a 76% improved response time to cardiac calls.  By working with these agencies the county is keeping costs in check without expensive consultants and studies.
Police merging was studied in great detail.  The rosiest scenario would save a typical Hunterdon county homeowner in one of the 13 towns that have police about $50.  Even a casual observer of the Somerset County study, the referendum in Franklin Township and even the events in West Amwell and Flemington when police mergers were suggested demonstrates that the majority of voters want their police.  The County stands ready to help towns pursue mergers if they wish the help.   
The notion that my colleagues and I have not reduced the cost of government, reduced its size and shirked our duty to the public is farcical.  Millions less in spending, a public workforce reduction of nearly 20%, actively engaged in the effort to share services, consolidate and regionalize.  We will perform studies prudently, after a thorough analysis that shows the money spent will bear fruit, to do otherwise would be, well, not doing our job.