By Linda Stamato
Municipalities in Morris County are seizing a big opportunity to cooperate. But they shouldn’t stop there.
Six towns–Morristown, Morris Township, Morris Plains, Madison, Chatham and Chatham Township–are accepting state support to develop plans to share costs and maintenance of essential but pricey public equipment.
Some highly specialized equipment is not needed on a full-time basis. So having use of it without paying the entire cost makes good sense.
Regionalizing maintenance and repairs for public works fleets of these towns makes good sense too, because joint efforts can produce savings and well may enhance the quality of performance and service.
The towns are developing their plan for collaboration with a $90,000 grant from the Local Efficiency Achievement Program (LEAP) of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs.
Later, the collaborative will seek support from the same program for aspects of its implementation plan.
Why stop there?
This collaboration should prompt further reflection. Municipal borders, after all, should not be barriers to effective planning, purchasing and better services.
Frankly, there are other areas in which cooperation will benefit the towns—sharing fire fighting services comes immediately to mind. But absent regular forums to consider where it makes sense, further cooperation may remain a pipe dream.
We need structures to support cooperation. With infrastructure needs that cross borders, and for many development projects as well, there is rare alignment with political jurisdictions.
The pandemic exposed flaws in governance, particularly when states competed across borders and made unilateral decisions that exacerbated conflict among them. They learned the value of regional cooperation soon enough.
So can municipalities.
If local governments have a say in what happens in their region, all may gain by reducing costs and enhancing the effectiveness of government services. At the same time, they can help determine the destiny of their region. Along with the political will, they just need a forum in which to plan.
They have a good start.
Linda Stamato is founder and director emeritus of the Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. She also is a senior policy fellow. Active in the Morristown community, she serves on the trustee board of the Morristown and Morris Township Library Foundation and is a commissioner on the Morristown Parking Authority.