Last week the Mount Arlington, New Jersey, Township Council released a report from an independent consulting firm called Blue Shield Consulting Services. The purpose of commissioning the report was to ascertain whether or not the Mount Arlington Police Department should be merged with one of the surrounding localities. Since I grew up in Mount Arlington and my family still lives there (and I visit there quite often and have even thought about moving back at some point), I have some comments on this issue. But first, the rest of the story….
The report suggested that it would save Mount Arlington multiple millions of dollars to consolidate their police force with an adjoining municipality. There is a grassroots organization based out of Roxbury that disagrees, though (I think it’s Roxbury – the founder lives in Roxbury, but is a former Mount Arlington resident – not sure what the deal is here). On their website (saveMAPD.com), they show that they’ve got around 1140 signatures on an online petition. The problem with this, though, is that some of these petition signers are not Mount Arlington residents, but instead they are former residents like I am.
The folks behind saveMAPD.com commissioned a counter report that (obviously) disagreed with the Blue Shield Consulting Services report. As a side note, this just goes to show you that in the academic and consulting worlds you can get anyone to write you a report using facts that support your case! I think that’s obviously what happened with the saveMAPD.com folks, but I wonder if that’s how the Township Council prefaced their conversation with Blue Shield Consulting Services. Who knows this information besides those who are actually behind closed doors, right?
Anyway, that’s not my gripe with this situation. In fact, I don’t think I have a gripe with the situation as much as I have two comments to make about it all. First, the fact that consolidation of a police department that covers a few square miles is a debated issue has got to have our friends out in the Midwest and South rolling over with laughter. To those folks I say, “Welcome, friends, to New Jersey! This is a state that is made up of 566 fiefdoms that each fight, scratch, and claw for their territory! This is the state of the political bosses and good old boy system. This is – New Jersey!”
My second point is that you have to wonder about the legitimacy of the Township Council’s position on the consolidation. They’ve taken the stance that consolidating will save the township money. Okay, fine. As a student of public policy the very first thing you learn about taxes and local municipalities (and state governments for that matter) is that once they raise a tax rate, they NEVER lower it! Sure, you may have a few extreme examples from around the nation, but the chances of this “saved money” from the consolidation equating to a lower tax rate is slim at best.
So you have to competing sides arguing for two inherently awkward positions. New Jersey should be much more regionalized when it comes to service provisions. If done correctly, this would ease costs and (more importantly for those of us who live in the state) put an end to the abuse of power that is prevalent in the local police forces around New Jersey. At the same time, there will always be people who fight against regionalization because it means that some jurisdiction is going to lose some measure of power. Further, some folks will have hurt feelings about losing fiefdom-specific services.
My issue is that no matter what happens the one thing that you can be sure of is that the tax rate will NOT go down – and THAT, folks, is something worth getting mad about.