Mercer County residents came together in Brower Student Center last Wednesday night to work together to solve problems in their communities at the College’s Public Issues Summit.
The theme of the evening, “Collaborating Across Communities,” was fitting as 105 residents from Mercer County towns joined to discuss whether or not municipalities should jointly attack problems such as sprawl and high taxes.
The results showed that while the participants shared many different ideas on the topic, most agreed that municipalities sharing services is something that should be looked into as a possible improvement on the current system of home rule by individual communities.
The ideas were organized into document form for submission to the Mercer County Planning Division, other local officials, the media and the participants themselves.
In his address to the Summit, state assemblyman and keynote speaker Reed Gusciora (D) said, “Our state continues to remain fragmented along municipality lines.” He said that forums, such as the Public Issues Summit, help to form “ties that bind.”
The participants, in groups of about 10, discussed the pros and cons of four different approaches to decide whether combining with other communities on certain issues is a good idea and if so, how it should be done.
The possible approaches were to support municipal independence and home rule, promote equity through regional tax-sharing, achieve greater municipal efficiency through shared services or consolidate municipalities and regionalize local government.
After reviewing the approaches, the participants took individual surveys rating the importance of each method and then worked together in the second session to draft a statement of what they think is important and should be done about resource sharing by municipalities.
At the end of the discussion sessions, the results were tabulated and the groups’ statements were combined, copied and distributed to all in attendance while the participants mingled. William Ball, associate professor of political science, referred to this quick work by his staff as “a small miracle.”
Participants left the student center with looks of accomplishment on their faces. Brian Malone, editor of The Times of Trenton and discussion moderator, summed up the evening as “a textbook example of how local government should work.”
The Summit was sponsored by the College’s Leadership in Public Affairs Program, The Times and the Mercer County Planning Division. Financial support for the Summit came from a gift to the College from Nexus Properties.