We are inundated with messages that times are tough economically. Together with tight economic times are budgetary issues for governments, particularly local governments. Why aren’t more cities, towns, and villages combining to reduce the duplication in services? Think about it for a moment. Each city has a manager, administration staff, possibly fire and police departments with the overhead to run each. What about a parks department, street cleaning department with the bureaucratic hierarchy and all of its costs?
Why not combine Capitola and Soquel? What about Aptos, Capitola, and Soquel? The taxpayer will now only pay one city manager, one administration staff that will be smaller than the two added separately (i.e. each town had 3 administrators for a total of 6, but combined needs only 5), one police department, one fire department. This could be significant in savings. Who right now would not like to save tens, hundreds, or possibly thousands of dollars per year in taxes?
The Los Angeles Times reported that Princeton Borough and Princeton Township in New Jersey are combining into Princeton for exactly the reasons I stated above. This combination of two municipalities will save the taxpayers $3.1 million per year. Princeton Borough has 14,203 people, Princeton Township has 16,027 so the town of Princeton will have 30,230. With the savings divided by the population, each and every person will save over $102 per year. This means an average household of four people will save over $400 per year in local taxes. That is $400 that family can use to pay down debt, spend on children’s activities, save for a rainy day, or any number of things they choose to do with the money instead of handing that money over to their duplicated local governments.
One more significant advantage by combining two towns into one: a single municipal code. When was the last time you read your municipal code or needed to pull a permit?Municipal codes are generally complicated, somewhat arcane, and change on a regular basis. Take a look at the Santa Cruz Municipal Code here, the Capitola Municipal Code here, or the Scotts Valley Municipal Code here. Now think about a contractor for moment. Since they remodel, add-on, and generally improve homes, they need to keep track of all of the municipal codes where they work. Having one code to follow instead of two or more simplifies their job. The contractor also would then have a single place to get permits instead of several city halls to visit, along with less complexity in keeping tracking of the ever changing codes. Reducing the complexity of codes and paperwork streamlines work, reduces costs and overhead, is admirable, and ultimately beneficial to all.
Most people who will argue against combining neighboring townships make the value judgement that town history trumps economic sense. Some might argue that the smaller individual town will better serve the residents. Neither argument holds up under the harsh light of economic realities and a deepening sense of financial malaise.
In the end, more towns, villages, and small cities need to look closely at combining resources for the overall good of the residents.