Friday, November 1, 2013

Roxbury and Mount Arlington Residents File Petition to Study Municipal Consolidation

 

Media Contact:
Jonathan Jaffe
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jonathan@jaffecom.com

Roxbury and Mount Arlington Residents File Petition to Study Municipal Consolidation


ROXBURY AND MOUNT ARLINGTON – November 1, 2013 – Citizens representing Roxbury and Mount Arlington today submitted petitions to clerks in both municipalities calling for a municipal consolidation study commission.

Nearly 400 signed petitions were handed in to the Roxbury municipal clerk today, while Mount Arlington residents handed in 111 signatures. In both towns, there were dozens of extra signatures submitted.

Once the petitions are certified, the citizens’ group can then work on an application with the state to form the consolidation commission, comprising five residents of each town. The commission is designed to study the pros and cons of merging the towns, and if the issue should go before voters of both communities.

The process, which follows the Municipal Consolidation Act of 2007, is similar to what is now taking place in Scotch Plains and Fanwood, which formed their consolidation commission earlier this year in partnership with local elected officials.

“This is another example of local citizens working under state law to promote change,” said Gina Genovese, executive director, Courage to Connect New Jersey, which is assisting the citizens’ group through the process. “The group of petitioners in Mount Arlington and Roxbury are making history for their hometowns, calling for an analysis to see if the two towns are better together.”

The effort was put together by the Roxbury Taxpayer Association, including Fran Day, Garry DeFilippis and Chris Rogers, this year’s Roxbury School Board candidates. In Mount Arlington, the effort was driven by former Councilman Gene Paradiso, a current school board member who joined a group to merge the towns in the 1990s, before the Municipal Consolidation Act of 2007 was adopted.

“The only focus I have concerning this topic is that there is a need to complete the Fact-Finding phase of such an effort,” Paradiso said. “I am personally not in favor or against following through with Consolidation. I would like to uncover all the variables and related facts so that this topic can finally have the facts and the community given the ability to weigh their options in a non-emotional manner.”

President of Roxbury TEAM, Craig Heard added, “We share the goal of improving educational quality in the schools by eliminating waste, lowering property taxes and directing savings to the classroom. That is why we have played an integral part in raising awareness about consolidation.”

Another key player has been Maureen Castriotta, a candidate for State Senate who has made consolidation one of her key issues during her campaign.

The effort to gather petition signatures began October 2012, with residents from both towns meeting to discuss the petition process.

“We formed a team to raise awareness about consolidation, and petition residents’ signatures to submit proper documentation to the state Department of Community Affairs and ultimately get approval for a Consolidation Study that would analyze feasibility,” Heard said. “Now, with the petitions submitted, the goal is to analyze potential savings by consolidating municipal functions, school administration, and adoption of best practices.

Roxbury and Mount Arlington are not the first to pursue this initiative. Princeton Borough and Princeton Township conducted the study in 2011, and consolidated on January 1. The merged town has more than $3 million in tax savings and has received positive feedback from residents.

More information is available at www.RoxburyTEAM.org or www.couragetoconnectnj.org.

Monday, October 14, 2013


2013 Roxbury School Board Signs for Day, Rogers and DeFilippis are here!   Send us an email to info@roxburyteam.org and we'll deliver one to your door.



Monday, May 13, 2013

Scheneck, Moschella and D'Agostino RESIGN NOW!


There she goes again… 

Roxbury School Board President Carol Scheneck would like you to believe that our local school board has been making sound financial decisions which are in the best interests of the students and the taxpayers.  This could not be further from the truth and the school board's consideration of outsourcing the cafeteria workers is case in point.

Anyone who looks at my voting record as a former Roxbury school board member knows I am no friend to the New Jersey education unions. While I spoke out and voted against bloated salary & entitlement increases, Ms. Scheneck couldn't wait to rubber stamp them.

In any case, why am I against outsourcing the cafeteria staff? Well, here are the facts. The state requires that all in-house cafeteria programs be financially self-sustaining.  The Roxbury cafeteria program is not to receive any local taxpayer funding what-so-ever. Funding for the food service program is not collected from the property tax levy.  As an enterprise fund, all money for the current program is supposed to be kept completely separate from the rest of the school budget. So, outsourcing the cafeteria workers will not save the school district hundreds of thousands of tax dollars as did the outsourcing of the union members of the custodial staff, a decision Ms. Scheneck vehemently argued and voted against.

So why, then, would the Roxbury School Board consider outsourcing the operation?  Simple. Members of the current school board want to cover up the fact that our current Superintendent and Business Administrator have been handed more than two years of financial mismanagement from the previous administrations and school board leadership.  Just a few short years ago, our previous administration and school board presidents were asleep at the wheel while the cafeteria used up more than $100,000 in banked surplus.  When the previous business administrator finally added up the numbers and noticed the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in a single year, it was too late to correct and the findings had to be reported to the county superintendent resulting in a corrective action plan be put into place.  Now, if a third year of financial mismanagement occurs, the district will be subject to further corrective action from the state.  This, as well as the other many corrective action plans can be found on the Roxbury school district’s website by clicking on “Our District” and then “State Reporting.”

Clearly, if the prior administrators and school board presidents were doing their jobs, rather than organizing student walk outs against Governor Christie and wasting tax dollars by trying to shut down vocal board members with wrongful legal procedures, maybe the Roxbury cafeteria program would have been financially self-sustaining all along.

It is my understanding the cafeteria program is back in “the black” and will end up making money again this year. Therefore, I ask the taxpayers of Roxbury to not allow the lowest paid workers in the Roxbury School system be used as sacrificial lambs because of the careless leadership of past school board presidents.  Instead, join me in calling for their resignations of Carol Scheneck, John Moschella and Terry D’Agostino, and let’s give the local school cafeteria workers another year to prove the present food service program can operate long term with a profit.


Chris Rogers
Roxbury Taxpayers Education Association Member

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Scheneck, D’Agostino and Moschella - Resign Now!




The financial mismanagement of the Roxbury School Board continues…
For example, did you know that the Roxbury School Board hired yet another administrator to “educate” district employees on how to save money through energy conservation?   However, it was recently confirmed that this program, instead of saving taxpayer money, actually lost tens of thousands of dollars!
Did you know that the board is threatening to outsource our district cafeteria staff, many of whom only make 10 to 12 dollars per hour?  The cafeteria is a department that has the potential to pay for itself, but leave it to this board to target some of the most underpaid employees in the entire district rather than owning up to their lack of oversight of the previous administrative team who was asleep at the wheel when they were supposed to be monitoring the monthly financial status of the food service department.
Did you know that during the last several school board meetings, this board could not even approve simple employee travel expenses or accept resignations because there are so many board members who must recuse themselves due to financial conflicts of interest?
Now, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education has ordered the Roxbury School Board to pay the legal fees of a prior school board member who was the victim of slanderous and false accusations of the board majority and prior administration.  Roxbury School Board President Carol Sheneck, Vice President Terry D’Agostino and prior Board President John Moschella would like you to believe that they had no part in the vicious political and legal attacks that were financed with the your tax dollars.  However, it is now clear that these three cost the taxpayers of Roxbury hundreds of thousands of dollars in senseless legal bills.
Aren’t you tired of your tax dollars being held hostage by a few elite politicians who say they are here for the children, but instead frivolously squander your tax dollars which they are entrusted to spend wisely?
Today, we ask you to join us in calling for the resignation of Scheneck, D’Agostino and Moschella.  Figuratively and literally, the taxpayers of Roxbury cannot afford their careless leadership anymore.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Doing More With Less In the New Princeton

 

By Liz Lempert

Local governments everywhere are faced with a tough challenge: how to manage increasing costs — especially for health care and pensions — without cutting back on important services or burdening residents with always-ballooning property taxes.

Before our historic merger at the beginning of this year, Prince­ton Borough and Prince­ton Township did what many other communities have been doing to get by: We shrank the size of staff (by nearly 20 percent through attrition over the past seven years), we cut back on services and we dipped into surplus.

For a few years, those efforts helped to stem the tide of rising property taxes. But if we continued down that road, eventually our surplus would dry up and we’d cease being able to provide the services that our residents want and expect. Worse, we would face the prospect of raising taxes and decreasing services.

Consolidation of the two Prince­tons paved the path for a better way.

With a single government, we are now delivering better services at a lower cost. At the end of three years, when consolidation is fully phased in, we expect to save approximately $3 million annually — a conservative estimate.

For this year, we are already exceeding projected savings by 40 percent.

A merged Prince­ton is better. Trash collection is now offered to all residents. Before consolidation, township residents had to pay for private hauling. The new, leaner public works department now has the staff to refurbish the benches along Nassau Street in the downtown. A more efficient deployment of equipment and manpower has also resulted in quicker snow removal and cleaner streets.

Service has also expanded under our consolidated police force. Through attrition, we have reduced the size of the combined force from 60 to 54 officers, with a force of 51 officers expected by 2015. Savings represent $2 million of the $3 million we expect to save annually.

When we had two separate departments, we needed two chiefs and two administrations. Now with one department, we have a single command structure and more flexibility in deploying officers.

Surprisingly, despite the smaller force, we are putting more cops on the street. Since Jan. 1, many have remarked that our police are more visible than ever. The concern raised during the consolidation debate — that combining and shrinking the force would lead to reductions in police services — has largely disappeared.

Restructuring the police department has also enabled us to reinstate a dedicated safe neighborhoods unit. Community policing — working cooperatively with residents to proactively identify and resolve issues — is core to the department’s mission, and every officer is trained in community policing techniques.

By having a dedicated unit, the force can spend more time to develop relationships with residents, schools, businesses and community groups. The new unit recently launched a resident survey to identify areas of concern in the community to improve service.

One of the remaining symbols of the past is the old township and borough police cars, which we chose not to repaint with the new logo to save money. They are a visible reminder that we are not erasing our past by consolidating. Rather, by combining resources, we have found a way to reuse and repurpose.

Consolidation has moved Prince­ton from being forced to choose between diminishing services or higher taxes to a promising future with opportunities to enhance services and save money.
I encourage other communities in New Jersey to look at Prince­ton’s experience and consider whether consolidation might work for them, too.

Liz Lempert is mayor of Prince­ton.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Heed success stories of consolidation efforts

 
By Chad Goerner, Former Mayor of Princeton Township

One year ago, Princeton Borough and Princeton Township residents went to the polls and approved the first large municipal consolidation in more than 100 years -- a move that will save millions and improve service delivery for the soon-to-be combined towns.

In Morris County, where Roxbury and Mount Arlington are beginning to explore ways to save money by coming together, consolidation would also greatly improve the coordination of emergency services -- a critically important issue that will only take on greater importance as New Jerseyans recover from the wake of superstorm Sandy.

When Sandy struck Princeton, we responded for the first time in a completely coordinated fashion. With the merger of our two municipalities fully under way, we established an Emergency Operations Center that was staffed by the police departments, the public works departments, fire and EMS personnel and other staff.

Police were able to coordinate more effectively in prioritizing coverage for the whole town, while the borough and township public works departments marshaled their resources to open up critical roadways more quickly.

We launched coordinated communication to all residents of the soon-to-be consolidated borough and township through social media outlets and a reverse-911 system. This single, coordinated emergency response was a dramatic improvement compared to the response coordination conducted separately by our towns in previous storms.

A coordinated emergency response isn't the only reason to look closer at consolidation.

We have set a path to savings that exceed our consolidation commission's estimate for 2013 and beyond. In addition, we have uncovered areas of savings that we did not focus on during the study process: through zero-based budgeting in our operating budgets, harmonizing employee benefits, cost avoidance by better using joint real estate and more.

The savings for the Princeton merger are projected to be at least 40 percent greater in 2013 than the original estimate ($2.26 million versus $1.61 million) from the consolidation commission that studied merger of the Princetons.

Furthermore, at full implementation in three years, the commission originally estimated a total savings of $3.32 million. We now project that if the new governing body follows the commission's recommendations, we can reach approximately $4 million in annual savings.

 These annual staff savings are a result of eliminating duplication and repurposing personnel where appropriate. In addition to those savings numbers, we also are uncovering areas of cost savings that were not analyzed by the consolidation commission.

Our operating budget for 2013 has the potential to be reduced because of the elimination of duplicate department needs (no need for two municipal audits, etc.) and employee benefit savings.

In addition, we've announced that due to attrition and earlier staff departures resulting from consolidation, we stand to save roughly $705,000 in 2012. This savings will offset a large part of our transition costs and put us on the path to realizing our savings sooner.

 Consolidation may not be the solution for all municipalities in Morris County, but for some -- such as Roxbury and Mount Arlington -- it certainly is worth considering.

It has the potential to create a more sustainable budget that can survive under the state's 2 percent municipal budget cap without drastically reducing surplus or cutting valuable services. So, why aren't other towns looking into this more expeditiously?

The main obstacle remains our elected officials, who still cling to home rule. It's easy to understand why -- consolidation brings fears of losing control and giving up town identity.

But under the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Act (2007), there are new provisions that make mergers more feasible. Towns can now apportion debt (i.e. each town is separately responsible for the debt they incurred prior to consolidating), they can develop advisory planning districts to help preserve neighborhood character and, perhaps most importantly, they can continue ordinances and service districts within their preconsolidation borders, allowing many identity-related concerns to subside.

Without consolidating, the Princetons, like many other towns in Morris County, would have been under continued budget pressures, and residents would have continued to see staff and commensurate service cuts.

It's always easy to point fingers and cling to the hope that things will magically change and keep studying shared services without having the political will to enact them. All the while, many towns are spending down their savings or cutting services to try to stay under the 2 percent cap.

Our success in Princeton certainly has sparked more discussion throughout the state, and there are a select group of open-minded elected officials and residents who want to continue this effort in New Jersey.

While consolidation is not a silver-bullet solution for everything that ails us, it certainly is one tool in our municipal toolkit that should be moved to the top shelf. Our success in Princeton is proof.

Chad Goerner is the former mayor of Princeton Township.