Friday, October 15, 2010

Republicans Cry Out for More Taxes

No, this is not an Onion headline.   It’s true.

Medford is a town in Burlington County, and it’s as Republican as you can get.  Assemblyman Scott Rudder hails from there, and Chris Myers (John Adler’s opponent in 2008) is its Deputy Mayor.  Last year, Chris Christie carried the township with 60% of the vote in a three-way race.

So why at a public meeting this week were township residents clamoring for a tax increase?

Medford is one of two towns in the county that does not utilize the Burlington County central emergency dispatch system for 911 calls.  At least until now.  The township council recently adopted an ordinance to eliminate the town’s local dispatch service and transfer to the county system on January 1.  While the savings estimates run from $300,000 to $600,000 per year, that was not the only reason for the switch.  The county system employs more modern technology, which improves how dispatchers can handle cellular calls.

Residents were upset.  Despite the financial and technical advantages, they felt that the local dispatchers knew the town better, and were willing to pay higher taxes if the revenue could be targeted for retaining the township’s services.  Several wanted this to be decided by ballot, but it’s too late for it to be part of the November election.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an attempt at shared services suffer from what I’d call the Reverse NIMBY effect.  Residents like home rule, close control, and familiarity with service providers.  And while I’d bet that Medford residents overwhelmingly support tax cuts, when it comes to a specific service, they sing a different tune.  But if the cost of government is to be contained, we will need more of these types of efficiencies which come with consolidation and sharing.

Governor Christie is squandering a golden opportunity.  Our state has a large deficit problem, and our governor, who claims to be unconcerned with his popularity, should use his bully pulpit to promote consolidation as a means to save money for the taxpayers.  Yes, during the transition from local to centralized services there will be a learning curve that would degrade performance for a short time.  But with proper planning, these inefficiencies can be temporary and ephemeral.   This is the true meaning of the governor’s “shared sacrifice” mantra.  Accept short term inefficiencies to reap the long term benefits of economies of scale.  This will benefit citizens of all political stripes.

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