Agreement brings shared services into spotlight
By Mandy Coriston
The Sussex County Board of Chosen Freeholders in late March voted 4-1 to approve a measure to send female inmates from the Keogh-Dwyer Correctional Facility to be housed at the Morris County Correctional Facility in Morris Township, at an annual cost of just under $192,000. Sussex County Sheriff Michael Strada cited decreasing inmate population and the need for extensive repair and maintenance at his aging facility as the key factors behind the move, which the seven-member Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders unanimously approved the same night.
In addition to paying to house the female inmates, Sussex County will also be responsible for transportation to and from the Morris County jail and will cover the costs of any necessary off-site medical treatment. The two counties already hold similar agreements for lodging juvenile offenders and for the services of a shared medical examiner. The freeholder candidate team of Anthony Fasano and Sylvia Petillo issued a statement praising Sheriff Strada for his commitment to saving Sussex County tax dollars; the prior shared services contracts have reduced spending by more than $2 million.
In a prepared statement, Strada said, “I believe this shared service agreement is fair and works in the best interest of both Sussex and Morris counties. We were $2.7 million under budget last year and I expect that savings to increase with the transfer of our female inmate population to Morris County.”
This new contract is far from the first instance of service consolidation in Sussex County, but it highlights the ongoing struggle for municipal governments to find the means to provide quality services to residents without substantial tax increases. New Jersey authorized the use of shared services in 1974, and examples can be found throughout Sussex County in the form of sending agreements for regional school districts, joint municipal courts, and the sharing of less frequently used services such as animal control. Currently, 10 of the county’s 24 municipalities use the Sheriff’s 911 Call Center for the dispatch of emergency services.
In Jan 2018, the New Jersey State Legislature established Path to Progress, a fiscal policy workgroup made up of bipartisan legislators, policy scholars and financial experts, and prominent active and retired businesspeople from around the state. Working in small committees for several months, the panel was broadly tasked with identifying ways to handle burgeoning pension costs, mitigate tax increases, and enhance shared services and consolidation among New Jersey’s 565 total municipalities. Local representatives in the workgroup included co-chair Senator Steve Oroho (R-24) and legislative member Senator Anthony Bucco (R-25). Oroho also serves as the Senate Republican Budget Officer.
Path to Progress released its official report in Aug 2018, and its primary recommendation on the subject of shared services was to revamp the failed Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization, and Consolidation Commission, launched in 2007. LUARCC would be disbanded in principle and a new commission would be formed, to be called the Legislature’s County and Local Government Study Commission. A previous committee by that name was dissolved in 1992. The mission of the group would be to perform intensive study the efficiency of services on a local, county, and state level, and report their findings and recommendations to the Division of Local Government Services; in turn, that division would use those findings to help shape new legislature.
The Path to Progress report also recommends that municipalities have regular meetings with their Boards of Education, consider joint courts for adjacent towns with small caseloads, and create a tax study commission to evaluate assessment practices for efficiency and equability. The full Path to Progress report and more about the members of the group and their working process can be found at www.pathtoprogressnj.org.
In Sussex County, several municipalities including Newton, Sparta, and Byram have passed resolutions to support the recommendations in the Path to Progress report. Byram is seeking to take the initiative to further its participation in shared services; the town currently has an agreement with Andover Township for municipal court services, and uses the county 911 system.
Byram Councilman Harvey Roseff has been stridently vocal in his support of expanded shared services, and pushed for the formation of an ad hoc committee to explore opportunities. That committee will be looking to invite representatives of other municipalities to roundtable discussions, as well as hold individual meetings with interested parties.
In rare agreement with Roseff at Byram’s March 19 council meeting, Councilman Scott Olson said, “We want to be the lead on this and show people we’re willing to do something big. Maybe the more people who work together, the more money we can all save.”