Should Highlands Merge With Another Town?


Since Sandy especially, the average Highlands resident need to play a role in reforming not only Highlands, but New Jersey as well. Our town is devastated, we’re looking at a serious future ratable issue, add in to the mix the state of NJ is broke, taxes are rising (outside of Sandy aftermath), and municipal aid is shrinking. We need serious, lasting reforms – the kind of change that comes not from politicians, but from residents.

A solution to consider:

Municipality Consolidation:

By consolidating several towns into a single, streamlined municipality, we can eliminate overhead and provide better government services at a lower cost. And if done properly, we can make these changes without losing local identity.

We can achieve new efficiencies while preserving the sense of community that makes Highlands unique.

Sea Bright is participating in a study that will analyze the cost/benefit they would face if they merged with another beach front town. Ideally they would pick 5 separate towns and compare those cost/benefits to figure out if this is something they want to move forward on.

I know in the past, when brought up, many residents feared that consolidation could destroy the special character of Highlands. But the reality is, Highlands character doesn’t depend on its local government. (Although, Highlands local government could be described as characters.)

NJ is full of wonderfully unique communities that are part of larger municipalities. For example, Ocean Grove is part of Neptune Township, Short Hills is part of Millburn, and Colonia is part of Woodbridge.

When you think about it, many local governments (especially on the Bayshore) are providing 80% of the same services. This drives up property taxes while reducing the quality of local services.

The real savings come from the elimination of redundant positions that are required for each town. This includes borough administrators, clerks, tax assessors, CFOs, inspectors, attorneys, and DPW management. For example, one administrator can just as easily serve a community of 4,000 or 40,000 but, in the larger town, the cost is covered by ten times the number of residents.

Another benefit: Mayors and councils/committees would come from a larger pool of qualified people.

Why has this not been a successful in the past?  Fear.

Fear that Highlands would lose its sense of community or identity
Fear by municipal employees that they will lose their jobs
Fear of the unknown

In the aftermath of Sandy, Highlands needs to consider any and all options of how to pull through this.  Municipality consolidation needs to be a consideration.

15 comments

  1. Atlantic Highlands seems very similar to us – in its topography, location, marinas, issues facing the residents, etc. etc. I know the taxes are high in Atlantic Highlands, but this tax revenue could be useful for us and they have done a much better job (than us) in revitalizing their downtown in the last few years.
    Middletown freeholders may not be as sympathetic towards our water/ocean-borne issues.
    Anyone care to point out the pros & cons for Atlantic Highalnds and Middletown which seem to be the 2 likely candidates? Uh-oh! Mayor’s not gonna like this one… his buddies may be out of a job & perks soon. Oh well, not everything lasts forever.

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    • AH is a logical choice but you have two completely different types of police departments. AH won’t want the type Highlands has and Highlands won’t give theirs up.
      AH has a chamber of commerce, Highlands has a much less effective business and marketing model.

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  2. The first step in making this change would be to dissolve the 2 party system in Highlands. By doing so, you open up the candidate pool tremendously. You no longer have party members choosing a “crony” or “good ole boy” as a political favor and a debt to be paid back in the future. This is the most important message to be spread in the coming weeks before election day. IMHO, neither of the two mayoral candidates have the best interest of the borough at heart, it is (and always has been) what can the elected politicians garner for themselves first and foremost.

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    • GREAT IDEA! Middletown, AH or Sea Bright can all be consolidation partners- many towns share schools, police and courts already. And we can add more ratables to the tax base by selling the government buildings that are not needed once the mergers/sharing takes place. The lowering of taxes, more than any ‘raising’ or ‘development plan’, will attract more businesses and homeowners….

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    • Do you think that by getting rid of the two party system that it’s going to make a difference on election day? You might have 10 people on the ballot but you aren’t going to eliminate that “good ole boy’s network” because they are still going to vote that way. The more people you have on a ballot the more it’s going to favor the Dem or GOP affiliated candidate.

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    • Stacy, Highlands United has worked to put the question on the ballot this November. If enough people to vote “yes” to the question, then elections are non-partisan and move to May. Yes, the same good ol’ boys will be able to run, but they will NOT have the democrat/republican label. They will have to have a platform and campaign on their own merits.

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  3. I have been advocating this idea for over 10 years now. It was obvious that long ago, that Highlands was too small to survive and that a day would come when the costs to run the town would overwhelm its ability to bring in revenue.

    First, as far as so called losing the “uniqueness” of the town etc etc etc. The main question is, who cares? Really? Whats the point of trying to preserve “home rule”, if no one can afford to live here. Trying to do that will eventually lead to the same result as consolidation and it will probably be forced by the state and no on Highlands terms. If the town does it now, then it may be able to control the process and determine who and how it consolidates with.

    As far as that issue goes, forget about Atlantic Highlands wanting to voluntarily join with Highlands. Most of the people there see Highlands as a poor cousin, and totally beneath them.

    Those that will fight tooth and nail will be those who benefilt from, and love having things the way they are. They will be the ones spreading the fear, the rumors, and the outright lies to keep things the way they are. They are the very small, and small minded people, that like being big fish in a very small pond. Where else do you see people that were barely able to graduate Henry Hudson HS be able to get elected to the council and serve on various boards???? Doesnt Highlands deserve the best minds possible to run things, and not just the dregs that can get as many friends and family members as possible to vote for them????

    Speaking of that, the Highlands Fire Dept. for example has way too much influence on town politics. They are at the center of the good ol boy club. For example Becky Kane, and Billy Caizza when he was on council voted “yes” on each and every fire dept. related vote. Even though morally, and in many times legally, they should have recused themselves from the voting. The record will show this to be true.

    Why do you think we have been seeing the same old names for years as the lame choices we get for candidates? The good old boy network has a strangle hold on the town, and we dont even have 2 parties in town anymore, but one big bastardized version of both parties.

    If people really want to see things change, the consolidation is the only way. It solves all the towns problems in one broad stroke. Taxes will not only stabilize but will probably go down, the big fish will now be reduced to less than mollusks, we will get the most qualified people to run for council and serve on boards, and the town will have a chance to develop and prosper.

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  4. I’d vote to be adopted by Sea Bright or Atlantic Highlands. I don’t want a merger…I want someone to take us over. If we go to Middletown we’d be lost in their shuffle, and they have their own problems with taxes and appearances of misspending.

    Atlantic Highlands is contiguous and we already share in the school system so that makes the most sense. Sea Bright seems better organized and better run than Highlands but they are already committed to a different school district. I also like that they enforce the speed limit on Rt 36. I’m not sure what our police actually enforces in this town.

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    • Any sharing can be with different towns- and if its a merger, any neighboring town could be a good choice and we still can share services with a different town, if needed. This is an issue that should become #1 on any candidates agenda for next elections. Police, Fire, municipal services, schools are all possible areas as is outright adoption/merger.

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  5. With Last nights Shadow lawn decision by the council, it seems inevitable that the town will either have to be taken over by another town, or merge with one or more towns. With the loss of tax revenue post Sandy, the only way to avert massive tax increases is to bring more rateables to town. Last nights vote shows that there is little will to do that, especially in the face of a very vocal minority. Addionally, unless the democrats on council come up with their own plan to gernerate income for the town and bring in rateables, a huge tax increase in the near future will be unavoidable. Indeed, the towns chief financial officer has advised the council of this.

    So, if you want to shoot someone elses plan down, you better come up with your own. So far, and certainly not heard at last nights council meeting, was any “plan” that will replace the tax revenue lost due to Sandy.

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    • Geeze, I guess you’ve never read my blog before, because I think I’ve offered up a plethora of different options. Here’s the thing.. Since Sandy all things are different. Over the last year, politics hasn’t been the divider, its been the glue, I’ve met Dems, Independents & Republicans who share all the same thoughts, our current council is over their heads, and we need inventive, thoughtful and actionable leadership. I’m tired of hearing why we *can’t* do things. I’ve learned when you ban together you can make things happen. What I’ve tried to do since Sandy a) Give people (including myself) hope that they can pull through this even though things seem hopeless at times, b) Push for a non-partisan government (which will be voted on in Novembers election), this will help get rid of the process pushing weigh-er downers that are part of the problem and not part of the solution c) Give people a laugh when there isn’t a whole lot to laugh at (although some people can’t tell the difference between my humorous posts and my literal posts) d) fight the monstrosity on the hill that was proposed under the farce guise of new ratables and was supposed to be the town’s only potential silver bullet of survival (except for raising the town 11 ft) and was actually horse hockey.

      You have the right to disagree.. just sit back eat your popcorn and watch what happens over the next year.

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    • I think Duncan’s argument re: rateables and the public comments influencing the voted down ordinance is getting a bit twisted. It was the location of the ONE lot involving spot zoning to allow three 10′ high risers atop a slump block that killed this ordinance. It had nothing to do with taxpayers rejecting or discouraging new development to increase rateables in Highlands. I think if you step back you might agree that it was also a legal liability factor and not politics that killed this ordinance. Especially given the public comments on record re: the existing hazard and the town’s responsible need to mitigate the potential (and predictable) loss of personal property and lives for both existing and future taxpayers. Christie’s Action Plan consisting of billions of dollars is first addressing housing and making homes damaged by Sandy habitable so homeowners can return. I am willing to bet that when local towns are facing bankruptcy due to Sandy that grants will then be designed to address that urgency for municipalities. Quite honestly I think Highlands needs a dedicated Grant Manager to successfully recover more than a Mayor (or part-time T&M service) at this point in time.

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