Monday, October 8, 2007

Merge Aberdeen and Matawan

It’s always nice to think about major cost savings from merging two neighboring municipalities. We would only need one mayor, one council, one town hall, one police chief, etc. We could eliminate the salaries and benefits of redundant employees. Streamline administrative and purchasing decisions. And save piles of money. But the truth is that the savings would only amount to a tiny percentage of our property taxes. No, the real reason to merge Aberdeen and Matawan is synergy. We can accomplish far more as one town.

Let’s first dispense with the savings argument.

The costs savings are fairly apparent. We could eliminate redundant positions, merge organizations, and unload one town hall. Theoretically, we could also find savings by merging the police departments and streamlining the purchase of goods and services, including the costs of maintaining our parks, streets, and sewers.

Let’s assume that if Aberdeen absorbed Matawan, we could achieve an unbelievable whopping 25% costs savings (this would require slashing labor and operating costs in half). Matawan’s current budget is $9.5 million. Aberdeen’s budget is $14 million. The savings would shrink the combined budget to $21.1 million for an overall budget reduction of 10%. But the towns' combined property tax levy (including county and school) would only drop 3.7% to $61.7 million. That translates into an annual savings of about $200 per household. And that’s assuming virtually impossible cost reductions.

But there are real gains from such a merger.

City Planning –
Matawan completely isolates Freneau from the rest of Aberdeen. The area surrounding the train station straddles the two towns. Main St. lies inside Matawan but its entire length runs alongside Aberdeen. It is nearly impossible to develop a cohesive city master plan unless the two towns merge.

State/County Financing –
Matawan Township changed its name to Aberdeen Township to achieve greater recognition from within the state. Increasing the town’s size by 50% and ending competition with Matawan Borough would help us petition the state and county for more funding.

New Development –
Several development projects in the area are starved for dollars, such as Cliffwood Beach’s beachfront project, Aberdeen’s seawall improvements, and upgrading the Matawan Water Plant. A larger township would have an easier time financing these projects.

Additionally, we could convert the “spare” town hall into an expanded library/community/adult education center.

School Management –
There is no one person responsible for our school district’s performance. Nor could there be since the district serves two independent municipalities.

If we merge the two towns, we could make the mayor responsible for the schools. Have the mayor appoint and the school board confirm the school superintendent. The superintendent would serve at the mayor’s pleasure but the school board would still control the purse strings.

In 1895, the residents of Matawan elected to secede from Aberdeen (then known as Matawan Township). I doubt they would vote the same way today. I am not suggesting that the mayor of a unified town should be David Sobel or Mary Aufseeser or, her challenger, Paul Buccellato. I am only saying that our two towns should be one.
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Anonymous said...

This was an excellent, well-thought out post, and I thank you for making it. Everything you're saying makes sense, and I think we should start taking the first steps towards this immediately, setting the table for a Re-unification Day Celebration 5 years from now. The first should be the police, what obstacles do you know of that would stop it from happening? I know Matawan's leadership has inquired into it with Aberdeen's, but I don't know what progress, if any, has been made.

Aberdeener said...

While the idea has merits, I believe a phased approach would become an impediment to a final unification. For example, starting with the police department, who will be the police chief, Powers or McGowan? How will we coordinate an officer's court appearance, since he will need to appear in both Matawan and Aberdeen court? How will we integrate their computer systems? What happens when one town wants to launch a new law enforcement initiative that doesn't interest the other town, such as Matawan's beer keg licensing or illegal immigrants? Who's to blame if there's an uptick in crime? Lastly, what material benefits will the average person see? Any potential cost savings (after the costs of integration) will be smaller than the annual tax increases.

Each of these problems is surmountable but I think we'd be better served by a referendum than a piecemeal approach.

Truth In Matawan said...

Great points, again, and I can see you reasoning for an all-or-nothing approach, but I actually see phased-in as the only approach to do it successfully due to that old enemy of progress: apathy. Have a referendum now, and it'll be shot down, just because that's what people do in the face of the unknown, namely reject it. Or ignore it. But if it's phased in, the re-unification will happen organically, and before the townspeople know what's happening, we're already nearly merged.

As far as the police are concerned, I understand there is currently some obstacle pertaining to the civil service exam that would prevent the merging at this time. One of the towns uses it and one doesn't, I believe. Choosing a chief, Powers or McGowan, is the absolute least of our concerns. If it's an true absorption, it's a non-issue anyway, as it remains Powers' department and hopefully (for McGowan) there's a spot for him in it. Ultimately, as you say, there are any number of obstacles, including ones we haven't thought of, but perseverance in the face of these obstacles, not shirking from them, is the clarion call to which we must hope all our elected officials answer.

I'm going to link your post to my blog, too, hope you don't mind, I feel you present a very clear case, with a common-sense approach. Thanks!

Aberdeener said...

While we share the same objectives, it sounds like you believe we'd have an easier time convincing our elected leaders while I believe we'd have an easier time convincing the electorate. One advantage of a referendum - big ideas bring voters to the polls, something the opposition parties desperately need.

Best of luck with your blog.

Truth In Matawan said...