BY HEATHER TAYLOR
THE CITIZENS CAMPAIGN
While the economy is slowly beginning to recover, our state, municipalities throughout New Jersey still face a tough fiscal squeeze, with too many of our municipalities forced to choose between reducing essential services or raising already too high property taxes.
But in these difficult times, there is some good news to report. Citizens throughout our state are taking matters in to their own hands and offering and realizing the adoption of constructive solutions that are saving some of our cities and towns millions of dollars annually.
And their certainly is a-lot of potential savings available--savings that eliminate waste through instituting best practices and modernizing local governments.
For example, the New Jersey State Comptroller recently found that 1 in 5 multi-million dollar local government contracts are plagued with hidden costs, conflicts of interest, and improper bidding procedures and local governments waste millions of dollars in unneeded insurance costs through a process that actually provides financial incentives for the insurance broker to provide the town with the most expensive possible insurance coverage.
The State Department of Community Affairs has recognized this fact and now made transitional aid contingent on cities adopting some common sense cost-saving policies--some of which are based on models provided by the Citizens' Campaign.
However, for the overwhelming majority of New Jersey municipalities--who do not receive transitional aid, change must come from the bottom-up. And we are pleased to report that is exactly what it is occurring.
To give one recent illustration the Plainfield City Council adopted a sweeping reform package including pay to play reform, competitive procedures for selecting insurance coverage, insurance brokers, and other professional services. In Plainfield there were no state monitors or FBI agents banging on the door, it was just some concerned citizens and local elected officials working together from the bottom up for more accountability and efficiency. Scharron Little, a Plainfield resident who was instrumental in gaining adoption of this package became active because she grew tired of watching her local property tax bill sky rocket. Taken together, the reform package adopted by the city has the potential to save millions, and help redirect the saved money to protect vital city services.
In Bergen County, where residents were merely spectators in a political war of the party lords, citizens were finally able to cut through the partisan back and forth and get strong pay-to-play adopted reform adopted. The Bergen Freeholders didn’t adopt the pay to play law because there was a DCA mandate or law enforcement probe; they adopted it because citizens proposed it and maintained the pressure required to get it passed.