FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 11, 2007
CONTACT: Sebastian D’Elia 908-527-4419
MORE THAN 75 GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS ATTEND COUNTY’S SECOND SHARED SERVICES MEETING
UNION --- More than 75 education, municipal and county government officials yesterday formulated a series of new cost-savings ideas, while continuing the advancement of several other opportunities during the County of Union’s second Shared Services meeting held yesterday at Kean University. The purpose of the meeting was to bring all governmental entities together to talk about ways to save tax dollars and share services.
“As I mentioned in my speech for this New Year, the County of Union’s number one priority is to seek out more shared services opportunities and cost savings,” Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jane Kowalski said.
The County of Union has already won a $104,500 grant from the state Department of Community Affairs that enabled it to create the Shared Services committee. The County is also in the process of applying for a 3-year $300,000 additional state grant that will enable it keep moving forward on shared services.
“We’ve been in close contact with the state and it looks positive,” said Chairwoman Kowalski of the grant application.
Yesterday’s meeting consisted of representatives from 24 school entities and districts, 20 municipalities, and County Government officials. The meeting lasted three hours and was moderated by the Forums Institute for Public Policy.
The officials in attendance spoke about next steps on several shared services opportunities they established at the previous meeting in September---in the areas of Information Technologies, Emergency Communications/911 dispatching, and Animal Control.
Needs assessment forms will be distributed to the municipalities to gauge participation in the proposed County-wide Animal Shelter.
A consultant, who is being paid out of a state grant, is currently examining the feasibility of coordinating regionalized or shared services in Emergency Communications/911 dispatching. In the area of Information Technologies (IT), the County is about to apply for a $35,000 state grant to conduct a feasibility study for website and email hosting for municipal governments as the first part of an IT shared service program.
Participants in yesterday’s meeting also examined many new areas for shared services, everything from copy paper to Wi-Fi, including:
Doreen Cali, the Borough Clerk for Roselle Park, proposed the County hold monthly meetings to spotlight a new department or area each month for the discussion of shared services.
Frank Guzzo, the Director of Human Services for Union County, suggested that counties and municipalities could be empowered by the state to make direct decisions on how and where to distribute state social service funds intended for mental health and youth services. This would lead to a more effective and efficient use for state funding, he argued.
Paulette Coronato, the Deputy Mayor of Scotch Plains, reported that the Borough of Scotch Plains and Fanwood share numerous items, including a tax collector and educational services. Coronato pointed to the success of Scotch Plains’ partnership with the County in its deer management program, and added that animal control services could be an area that can be shared countywide among the municipalities.
There was also some discussion about concerns that could arise from sharing personnel and governmental consolidation. Dr. Kim B. Coleman, Superintendent of Schools for the Morris-Union Jointure Commission, added that it would take some “strong” decision making to consolidate staff, and realize cost-efficiencies by sharing personnel.
On the matter of governmental consolidation (the merging of governments and/or school boards), County Manager George W. Devanney emphasized that it could only occur with a strong will from the state to do so, a clear consensus among all local partners involved, and a mandate from the public.
“We’re not here to force things on our residents that they may not want,” Devanney said. “As we go down the road, consolidation will not work out without the approval of our voters.”
Nonetheless, Devanney noted that Union County and its municipal and school board partners were at the “forefront” of the creation of shared services, and would continue to move aggressively toward implementation.
“We are on the brink of historic change in New Jersey, and a part of this will include shared services,” said Devanney.