Christie offers incentives for NJ towns to merge

| 15 Feb 2012 | 09:35

    TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie wants to give New Jersey towns more incentive to consider mergers. The governor on Friday proposed legislation that would allow consolidating municipalities to spread out one-time costs related to their mergers over a five-year period. He says that would allow towns to "rapidly" experience the financial savings generated by the mergers. In a related proposal, Christie said the state Department of Community Affairs would provide grants to each merging municipality to cover 20 percent of their consolidation costs. Christie also expressed support for a consolidation effort under way between Princeton Township and Princeton Borough. Residents in those towns are due to vote in November on whether they should consolidate. It marks at least the fourth attempt in almost 60 years to create a unified Princeton. Consolidation is an old idea that has been given new urgency in the aftermath of the recession, which has left some U.S. towns on the brink of bankruptcy and studying the issue. But difficult questions about economic benefits and community identity often get in the way. In few places is the issue as pronounced as in New Jersey, a small but populous state with 566 municipalities, nearly 600 school districts and some of the highest property taxes in the country. By comparison, California would stretch from Maine to North Carolina if it were along the eastern seaboard, and it has 482 cities and 58 counties. In New Jersey, staunch allegiance to home rule - the idea that towns should run their own affairs - has led to the slow accumulation of local entities and eventually an outcry for consolidation in the name of efficiency and streamlined government.