officials say they are all for sharing services with neighboring towns; but, archaic civil service rules stymie the savings intent of the concept, making it near impossible to realize any benefit.
So, the governing body has come out in support of bi-partisan legislation, sponsored by senators Joseph Kyrillos (R-13) and Stephen Sweeney (D-3), dubbed Senate Bill No. 2, which proposes some changes that would loosen ties to what they see as those antiquated civil service rules.
Those rules, they say, force towns entering into agreements to abide by what amount to costly tenure, terminal leave payment and hiring hierarchy obligations. As a result, few major shared services agreements have been implemented. The intent to save taxpayers money has not gelled.
“The bill doesn’t get rid of job protection, just the roadblocks, especially when you’re trying to share services with a town that isn’t civil service,” Mayor Tony Fiore said. “Without some reform (of the antiquated civil service regulations), there’s no way to realize new revenue between towns.”
And if a shared services agreement doesn’t end up working well, there’s no current legal mechanism in place to opt out of it, he added.
For instance, Fiore said, when Middletown and Highlands attempted to forge a shared services agreement with their police forces, it ended up being a futile effort.
Currently, a plan is presented to civil service and civil service comes back to the towns involved and then tells them what they must do to move forward.
In the case of the potential Middletown-Highlands police merger, Fiore said that civil service came back to Middletown and said, yes, it could be done, but Middletown would have to hire all 14 of Highlands’ police officers and make that town’s current chief Middletown’s next chief.
It didn’t work out because of that edict, which the mayor said was not cost-effective, and other reasons involving other civil service mandates that just didn’t make it worth the change.
Civil service promotions are set by seniority more than skill as well. That practice, for instance, can force a municipality to save a job for a higher paid, less productive and skilled employee rather than save a few lower-echilon jobs held by highly skilled employees with promise.
Civil service retirement rules also slow down the potential savings realized by shared services. Attrition, or waiting for retirements to go through and slowing down on hiring in merged departments, takes time. And, sticking with standard civil service mandates, it would take years before savings would show as the rules now apply.
Senate Bill No. 2 would help sharing municipalities save more by doing away with the requirement of terminal leave payments provided to employees “terminated for reasons of economy and efficiency,” Middletown’s resolution supporting it says.
Also, the Civil Service Commission, under the new legislation, would not be required to review “employment reconciliation plans.”
The entity that oversees shared services agreements — the state Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission (LUARCC) — would have to submit to the state a plan that shows estimated savings of any agreement. Municipalities would also have the right to appeal the LUARCC’s estimate.
The civil service entity’s “recommended consolidation plan,” like the Highlands- merger plan, would not be binding, but rather put up for a vote at the polls.
The bill also allows for the possibility of civil service and non-civil service towns sharing services, which is now impossible.
“For instance, as it stands now, we could never share services with neighboring towns like Red Bank or Tinton Falls, because we’re civil service and they aren’t,” Fiore said.
Being mired in that sort of red tape defeats the whole idea, when what makes the most fiscal sense to share with neighbors and save money, he added.
How do you feel about shared services? Since the state started promoting it, have you seen any instances where major municipal departments have merged and saved taxpayer money? Do you think it’s an “all talk, no action” idea?
Tell us in the comments section below.