NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 28, 2006

New Jersey, the nation's most densely populated state, is a place of small towns and small school districts.  But despite most residents' preference for the small town feel, the cost and inefficiency of running such decentralized governments is pressing state legislators to consolidate, say observers.

Consolidation is a controversial idea that has been talked about for decades, but despite New Jersey having more local governments per square mile than any other state, extreme examples of decentralization remain:

  • Teterboro, just one square mile, consists of an airport, an industrial park, an animal shelter, two apartment complexes and 50 people, and has its own government and an annual budget of $4.3 million.
  • The upscale Tavistock Country Club near Philadelphia has its own government -- 24 residents, two-tenths of a square mile and a liquor license that wouldn't be legal in surrounding Haddonfield.
  • Some 23 school districts don't even have schools.
  • Overall, New Jersey has a total of 1,412 towns, villages, school districts, water boards and other entities, according to the Census Bureau; that's one government for every 5 square miles.

Some, however, have responded to the need to consolidate, and are saving money:

  • Ocean, a township of 7,400 in central New Jersey, rebelled against consolidating emergency dispatch duties to Ocean County, but saved money elsewhere by combining less-sensitive functions, such as purchasing, with the county; it saves $1 a gallon on fuel, for example.
  • Gloucester County saved $1.1 million annually by merging two school districts and $2 million more by combining police dispatching.

Source: Dennis Cauchon, "Big government? N.J. has scads of little ones," USA Today, July 28, 2006


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