Monday, July 12, 2021
Levinson to Municipalities: The Ball is in Your Court for Taxpayer Savings through Consolidation
Atlantic County’s proposal to provide taxpayers with hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual savings through a shared services, countywide municipal court system is meeting resistance.
“It appears many towns are more interested in maintaining status quo than attaining significant savings,” stated County Executive Dennis Levinson. “Despite our full transparency in providing the cost savings, months of public presentations and discussions with municipal officials, explaining the proposal on multiple radio broadcasts and making ourselves accessible to answer any and all questions, there are still some who balk. At this point, the towns can come to us if they’re truly interested. There’s nothing more we can do.”
Levinson confirmed that only six of Atlantic County’s 23 towns have made the commitment. They include Egg Harbor Township, Galloway Township, Linwood, Weymouth Township, Estell Manor and Ventnor. According to an 11-town pro forma, Egg Harbor Township would save over $450,000 annually, Galloway would save $235,000 a year and Ventnor would save $225,000, to cite just a few examples.
“This proposal is based on economies of scale so the more towns that participate, the greater the savings,” he said. “Conversely, if only a handful of towns come in, it may not be worthwhile. Unless we have cooperation, this will not happen. This is a voluntary program. The county cannot force towns to participate. We’re not interested in power or control; we are looking to provide savings to the residents of the highest taxed state in the country.”
The county obtained current court costs from the towns, some willingly and others not. A few towns had to receive an Open Public Records Act request before responding and some still never responded.
“It’s confounding,” admitted Levinson. “Elected officials say they want to reduce costs and duplication but when push comes to shove, that’s not always true.
Atlantic City was the first to reply, last October, stating it was not interested before it ever saw a cost comparison or heard details of the plan.
“It’s interesting and very telling that the State of New Jersey, which has complete control of Atlantic City, inexplicably was the first to decline,” noted Levinson.
Another municipality, the Town of Hammonton, participated in initial discussions but later dropped off and is now soliciting towns to join them in a separate court!
Levinson explained that this is new territory. A countywide municipal court system does not yet exist in New Jersey. Senate President Steve Sweeney has been extremely cooperative by introducing legislation to make this possible.
“This is an opportunity for Atlantic County to once again be in the forefront, serving as a model for the rest of the state in consolidating services for the benefits of its taxpayers.”
“We want to have the new court system up and running by January 2022. The longer these towns drag their feet the more difficult that timeline becomes,” he said.
“The consolidated court proposal has extraordinary merit. We’ve addressed all the concerns, including travel and police overtime, but it never seems to be enough,” said Levinson. “The ball is now in their court.”