Op Ed from Camden County Board of Freeholders:
By Louis Cappelli, Jr. and Rodney Greco
As we move forward in the exploration of the possibility of a countywide police and/or fire department, we thought it was time to reiterate the parameters of the exploration and to update residents on where we are in the process.
It bears repeating that there is no county pre-conceived plan nor the inclination or authority for the county to force municipalities to do anything. Although we thought we had made it clear that the county’s role is solely to act as facilitator in exploring this option, media coverage has been all over the place, with some reporters predicting a “revolt” if towns were forced to join. This is a joint exploration on the county and local level. And it would not be the first time that a shared services agreement was explored or implemented. The emergency 9-1-1 system is one example, and the Camden County Library System is another.
In a period where governments across the country at every level—federal, state, county and municipal—are facing budget gaps and deficits, it is time for all of us – elected officials and taxpayers – to examine alternatives to provide services while keeping the cost of government down. In New Jersey, counties, school districts and municipalities have a two percent annual cap on raising taxes that severely limits our ability to add to operating costs. The cap forces a discipline upon all of us because it makes some of our operating costs unsustainable. Beyond that, we have an obligation to taxpayers to serve them while making sure their financial and safety interests are protected.
We have had conversations over the years and past months with some mayors on this topic. We first announced that the county was exploring this idea again in January. Since then, we have met with all stakeholders – mayors, police and fire chiefs, elected state officials including the governor and the president of the senate and union leaders for both police and fire.
The County’s Shared Services Division, with direction from the Freeholder Board, has sent a letter to mayors as well as police and fire chiefs, asking for their final recommendations on who should serve on two separate exploratory committees – one for police and one for fire. Each will include mayors, with police on the police committee and fire chiefs on the fire committee. The committees will have 17-18 members.
In the meantime, information is being gathered about countywide forces in other states, as well as proposals created by other New Jersey counties.
The committees will review these models as well as compile a needs assessment by municipality to determine whether there is anything worth exploring. Some towns may want to join such a countywide shared service, and others may not. As we facilitate this process, the County will continue to look at avenues to cut costs while providing needed services to taxpayers. And we will keep you informed on the progress we make.