Hopewell, Inc. New Jersey

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. a meeting will be held in Hopewell Borough, N.J. to discuss the possibility of dissolving the town’s municipal charter and incorporating as a non-profit entity.

What gave Mayor Paul Anzano this idea? He cites the cost of state-wide mandates on the small municipality’s budget. State-mandated full-time animal control and health awareness programming alone cost the borough of 2000 residents $40,000 a year. Residents don’t want to merge with neighboring Hopewell Township, which the Mayor argues will not only lead to the town’s loss of community identity, but will also raise taxes on residents.

In the non-profit entity model residents would be charged for basic services. Students would still attend public schools and residents would be taxed, as they are currently, for the schools.

The big issues discussed tonight will include how to organize elections, the treatment of revenue, aid and tax benefits, the future of municipal employees, and the potential need to close the municipal court.

It’s a fascinating development that points to one of the most misunderstood features of New Jersey’s political and fiscal history. New Jersey’s 566 municipal governments, and 600 + school districts are a perennial target of policymakers in search of solutions for the state’s high property taxes and government inefficiency. An often-offered remedy: centralize. Consolidate municipalities and “rationalize” the map of New Jersey. Bigger governmental units are better.

But it’s a remedy that fails to ask a basic question. What’s causing the inefficiency and high property taxes to begin with?

New Jersey’s municipal map is silent on the last half century of interplay between the state, federal, and local govenrments in forming New Jersey’s current fiscal landscape.  It only shows the boundaries that formed between the 17th and 20th centuries, set since 1956, of a state that grew prosperous in a period marked by institutional diversity and decentralization.