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Then for the people in the local community, there’s no state involvement, there’s no state money. They got it.” The New Jersey State League of Municipalities applauded the provisions of the Sweeney bill that limited seniority, tenure, pension, layoff, and reemployment rights under both existing law and under the Civil Service system for employees affected by shared services agreements.

But the league remains adamantly opposed to Sweeney’s proposal to strip recalcitrant towns of state aid, Dressel said.

“It cannot be argued that taxpaying voters who democratically reject an option offered them by an agency of the State bureaucracy should, therefore, forfeit their right to property tax relief funding,” Dressel wrote in a December letter to legislators.

Walton said his pitch to local officials and citizens is that it is important for Hunterdon County to take the time to consider all of its options now “because I fear if we don’t, the state is going to come in and tell us how to do it.

"There has been more real interest in shared services in the last few years than in the previous 35 years combined." Interlocal service-sharing agreements date back to 1973, but while municipalities have added more and more shared service pacts over the years, most were contracts with other towns for non-core services such as animal control officers or building inspectors.

“It used to be that shared services were a good idea for someone else’s town,” Professor Peter Woolley, the FDU poll director, said in releasing the poll last April.

“Now, voters are suggesting that it’s a good idea for their town too.” The question on the state level is whether a “carrot-or-stick” approach is the best way to encourage major cost savings through shared services and consolidation initiatives.

Further, the decline in real estate values has fueled a wave of property tax appeals, particularly by more affluent homeowners, and pending foreclosures and job losses by residents have reduced tax collection rates.

New Jersey’s sluggish economic recovery means that towns cannot count on new residential, commercial, and office construction to boost property tax revenues. “We are a more mobile society and not as wedded to our school district or municipality as we were in the past.

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