Over past year, TTF worked to unify two governments
The Transition Task Force published a draft of its final report on Monday as the process of preparing Princeton Borough and Princeton Township to merge on Jan. 1, 2013, approaches its last stages.
The TTF, a group of community members and representatives from the municipalities’ governments, has worked over the past year to make sure consolidation runs as smoothly as possible.
Voters in both the Borough and Township decided to consolidate their governments and form a single Princeton in November 2011. The vote came after a yearlong study by the Consolidation Study Commission, which published a report predicting consolidation of the two communities would save about $3.3 million per year, representing about 5 percent of the combined municipal budget.
The TTF’s work revealed the municipality may realize some of its savings on policing a year earlier than expected. The Consolidation Study Commission originally endorsed a plan to reduce personnel costs in the local police force by gradually scaling back the number of sworn officers from 60 in 2013 to 56 in 2014 and finally to 51 in 2015.
Instead, the TTF found there were already four vacancies on the police force this year, meaning the headcount is already down to 56. No officer has been asked to retire early, according to Joseph Stefko, the president and chief executive officer of the Center for Governmental Research, a nonprofit government consulting organization contracted by the Borough and Township to aid in the transition. The TTF recommended the new town council review the needs and services of the police force sometime in mid-2013 to determine if the original projected headcount reductions will be carried out according to the original plan.
The Public Safety Subcommittee of the TTF met with University Public Safety regularly over the past year to discuss the possibility of collaborating to save money and resources. The two parties are considering future collaboration on patrolling and technology operations but did not agree to any formal recommendations for the coming year.
“The process played out largely as expected,” Stefko said. “I think a lot of eyes were on the Princeton experience. I think a lot of other communities that watched that process have learned a lot.”
The municipal consolidation is the largest ever accomplished in New Jersey. This has put it in the spotlight as a trailblazer for the rest of New Jersey, where the state government has made consolidation and more efficient governance of its 566 municipalities a priority. Gov. Chris Christie is encouraging small towns across the state to consider consolidation or other cost-saving measures.
“We’re extracting lessons that can be applied to other municipalities that are experiencing municipal consolidation,” explained Logan Clark GS, the chair of the Wilson School’s community service committee. Clark is part of a group of Wilson School students who have been studying the consolidation process and working with the Transition Task Force since November 2011.
The commission of Wilson School graduate students was formed both to make recommendations to the TTF and to document the process of Princeton’s consolidation for the state government. Their collaboration was a joint effort between the Wilson School’s Graduate Student Government and the Wilson School’s Graduate Consulting Group.
“We’re hoping that the audience of this report will extend beyond the boundaries of just Princeton,” Clark said. The Wilson School students’ report will be submitted to the New Jersey state government’s Department of Community Affairs.
The graduate student group has been collaborating with Courage to Connect NJ, a nonprofit organization that encourages small municipalities across the state to consider consolidating with neighboring municipalities. Currently, Courage to Connect offers a guidebook to municipalities interested in consolidation. The organization has suggested adapting the Wilson School’s report into a companion guidebook, which would guide consolidating municipalities through their transition year, from immediately after the vote to consolidate is made to the first day of the new regime.
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