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2013 April Princeton Consolidation

Edwin W. Schmierer, Esq. presents an overview of the firm’s role in the municipal consolidation of Princeton, New Jersey:

In 2010 when the Township of Princeton decided to explore the possibility of consolidating with the Borough of Princeton, the initial step was to contact its Attorney, Edwin Schmierer, regarding the legal procedure of consolidation. Ed directed them to The Local Option Municipal Consolidation Act (N.J.S.A. 40A:65-25). The Act, adopted by the New Jersey State Legislature in 2007, was intended to encourage municipalities to consolidate in order to increase efficiency. The next step was for the two separate governing bodies of Princeton to appoint a Municipal Consolidation and Shared Services Study Commission. This Commission was chartered to look objectively at the case for or against consolidation of the Borough and Township and/or shared Police and Public Works services. The Commission held numerous neighborhood meetings and formed several focus groups. All elements of potential consolidation concerning the form of government, management and allocation of pre-existing municipal debt, departmental and facility recommendations were studied. On June 22, 2011, the Commission issued its formal report and made an official recommendation that the decision to consolidate should be put to the voters of both municipalities.

In the November 2011 general election, the issue of consolidation was approved by the voters in both municipalities. Thereafter, both governing bodies appointed a Transition Task Force to address the many practical issues which needed to be addressed to create the new municipality of Princeton. The Task Force was broken into subgroups and assigned to make recommendations regarding the logistics of merging the two municipal work forces– making recommendations with regard to the size and organization of a consolidated Police force, and addressing issues related to a consolidated Public Works Department. Recommendations from the Task Force were reviewed at joint governing body meetings during the latter part of 2012. Although the new Princeton government would make the ultimate decisions with regard to staffing, etc., the Task Force recommendations were discussed and endorsed by the two governing bodies during 2012 so that implementation of these recommendations could take place immediately upon the creation of the new municipality on January 1, 2013. During this consolidation process, Mason, Griffin & Pierson P.C.’s lawyers were called upon to provide advice and direction pursuant to the Municipal Consolidation Act, N.J.S.A. 40:43-66.35. The provisions of this Act are extremely general and while working with the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Division of Local Government Services, many practical decisions were made to ensure a successful consolidation. For example, the attorneys had to work with the New Jersey Secretary of State’s Office to avoid the abolition of the designated voting districts in both the Borough and Township until the final School Board election was held for the Princeton Regional School District in April 2012. A premature abolition of the previous voting districts would have disenfranchised the voters in the Township from electing their final representatives to the Regional School Board. Other practical issues arose during 2012 as consolidation was implemented. Legal advice was also provided concerning establishing terms of office for the new Princeton Council and a process was used at the Reorganization Meeting whereby “lots” were drawn from a hat in order to stagger the terms of the six Council members.

As the new Princeton’s first year is underway, work continues on the consolidation. The two former Municipal Codes will be reviewed and merged into a new Code for the new municipality, and collective bargaining agreements of the two former municipalities have to be reconciled. Mason, Griffin & Pierson, P.C. represented the Township of Princeton for fifty-seven years and the firm was appointed to represent the new Princeton. The attorneys of Mason, Griffin & Pierson, P.C. will continue to work on these and other issues as Princeton leads the way in New Jersey, demonstrating how the consolidation of municipal services will result in a more streamlined and cost-efficient delivery of services to New Jersey taxpayers.



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