This morning I ran into Mayor Ken Short at the Post Office. After exchanging pleasantries, we talked about the challenges posed in next year's municipal budget. He offered how municipal department heads were being asked to trim their budgets by 20%. This sounds like a good idea and it is. Unfortunately, it won't yield much in a budget exceeding $17 million dollars in spending. Why? Because the amount of spending under direct control of departments is only about $2 million. A 20% cut (if achieved) amounts to $400K in savings. Most of this amount would be absorbed in increases in mandated fixed costs (salaries, social security, benefits, and pensions) associated with a total workforce the committee is reluctant to reduce.
A better idea would be to focus on where the big bucks are currently spent, which is the Police department. Since all municipalities are trying to figure this one out, why not have the county take over the responsibility of providing police service to all 37 municipalities via a single county wide police force with precincts located where some existing municipal police stations already exists? Each precinct would be lead by an officer in charge as opposed to a highly paid Chief of Police as is the case today. You probably would not need as many officers as there are today across all the separate departments to cover the same amount of territory. Imagine the reduction in management overhead and full cost sharing of such a plan. The cost efficiencies could be enormous. By the way...this approach isn't anything new. Most states already follow it.
If Washington Township saw a 20% reduction between what it currently pays for police services and what it would contribute to the county for the same, the savings would amount to over $1 million. Now we are talking!
The township committee can't make a change like this on their own. Such a change would require leadership from our new Governor. If Christie is smart (and I think he is), he will take a hard look at something like this.
If I were Christie, I would mandate a consolidation of all municipal police services across the state by 2011 and stipulate no resident would pay no more than 80% of what they now pay to the municipality to the county for police services. No ands, ifs, or buts. Just do it.