SEA BRIGHT TO STUDY POSSIBLE MERGER

sea-bright-boro-hallThe move follows inquiries by borough residents concerned about rising costs of government, said town hall officials. (Click to enlarge)

By SARAH KLEPNER

A group of Sea Bright residents has been charged with investigating the big C.

No, it’s not a dread disease, though it has a dramatic aspect. It’s consolidation.
The borough council Tuesday night approved a resolution creating a citizen advisory committee to study a possible consolidation with one or more nearby towns.
But Mayor Dina Long says she’s still not sold on it.

The advisory committee will evaluate options “within the local geographic area and examine potential benefits and costs, both financial and cultural,” according to the resolution passed as part of an omnibus vote on several resolutions. No specific potential consolidation partners were mentioned.

A written report is to be submitted by December 31.
Long told redbankgreen that the move is driven by residents, and being handled by them because town officials have their hands full with post-Sandy recovery.
“We chose to empower those residents” who can dedicate the time and energy to studying the question themselves, she said.
She’s made no outreach on the issue to nearby towns, she said, and is withholding judgment until she sees the report.
“I’m somebody who needs to be convinced,” she said. Town officials have looked into shared services in the past, short of consolidation, and “so far nobody has been able to do [consolidation] for less. We have to see a true benefit.”
There is, however, a “huge problem” with school taxes, and  “relief from school taxes is what drives my interest,” she said.

Consolidation is gaining attention in the wake of Hurricane Sandy as one way to address the financial fallout, said committee member Marianne McKenzie Morse. She noted that that the professional salaries of experts such as the planning officer or engineer are significant costs to a small town.

“You sit back and look, and say, ‘Wow, how can we do better?’,” she told redbankgreen. “Given the economics, it’s responsible to explore all the concepts for cost savings. You don’t know if it would be beneficial until you explore it.”

Morse is involved with statewide organizations that promote consolidation – one is Courage to Connect NJ – and ‘good government’ in general, such as the Citizens Campaign.

This is an opportunity for people who want to strengthen their communities, Morse said.

“Since Sandy, lots of people want to donate time and energy, and many have broad skill sets to contribute,” she said. When municipalities consolidate, the needs and offerings of both communities have to be considered – and this is where skilled volunteers can be helpful, she said, citing the example of an architect who lives out of town but is taking an active interest in the recovery process.

Morse also pointed to the example of Princeton Borough and Princeton Township, which officially consolidated this year.  But the police departments of both municipalities had already been working together for several months, making assessments of who was doing what and where. When Sandy hit, she said, they found themselves better-positioned to handle the challenges that came with it.

Morse is aware that people have concerns about retaining local identity.  “For instance, people say they live in Lincroft, not Middletown.”

“We have to talk about it, let’s not let people speculate about what the facts are.”