SUMMIT, NJ — Jordan Glatt and Nic Platt have heard it before — for decades — they said. Glatt served as mayor of Summit from 2003 to 2011, and Platt did the same in Harding, located in Morris County, from 2013 to 2016. Both also served on their respective councils.
For as long as they can remember, the idea of shared services, also referred to as “consolidation” and “regionalization,” among other terms, has been trumpeted as a cure for the state’s high property taxes.
Now it’s their turn to try to effect change.
Glatt and Platt were named May 4 by Gov. Phil Murphy as “shared services czars,” tasked with helping N.J. towns figure out how to cut costs without reducing or eliminating services.
“We’re to see if we can cajole the towns to get there,” Glatt, 55, said while sitting alongside Platt at a Summit coffee shop.
With a direct line to Murphy, the two will offer a chance for “removing some of the red tape” to consolidation, Glatt added.
The pairing was pitched as a bipartisan proposal with Glatt, a Democrat who now lives in Springfield, and Platt, 65, a Republican. Little did Murphy know, the two men have been friends for more than 20 years.
Their combined experience includes years spent in a rural community of 3,900 people spread over 20 square miles with years spent in a suburban town of 21,000 with a central downtown.
Both men agree that the three biggest contributors to property taxes are “schools, police and fire,” but acknowledge that they won’t get town officials to agree to consolidate or share those — at least not at the outset.
“Little things, they may not be big numbers,” Platt said of how they will make a start.
But if they can be successful in showing how sharing the smaller, more mundane services can save money, then perhaps communities throughout the state will grow to trust their suggestions regarding the more contentious big-ticket items.
“It goes back to trust,” Glatt said. “Once you get used to change, it’s easier. It’s change that has to be done with a degree of backbone to make it work.”
Platt detailed how he spearheaded the consolidation of municipal court services among Harding, Madison, Chatham Township, Chatham Borough and Morris Township. Morris Township administrator Tim Quinn said that it has resulted in an annual savings of $150,000 for Morris Township since it joined the consortium in 2014.
Glatt said the concept at the state level will be to create a database of shared-service practices for towns to use as a resource.
With 565 municipalities and at least as many school districts, shared services is an idea that has more than come of age.
“Towns can’t afford to push back,” Platt said.
“It’s reached a saturation point,” Glatt added. “In New Jersey, we have great schools and we’ve said we’re willing to pay for that. Home rule has its value. That has gotten out of whack.”
Since being brought on board by the governor, Glatt and Platt have put in a “lot of miles and a lot of coffee” across the state to listen to mayors, council members and administrators.
They’ve also consulted with Marc Pfeiffer from Rutgers’ Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
While they’re mostly in a “listening mode,” Glatt believes there are some core factors that apply.
“The common element is trust,” he said. “We had a dozen different shared services in Summit. And you have to have trust between municipalities. But you can have it written into the agreement.”
Both men believe their current attempt to bring shared services to communities statewide has more of a chance than previous ones, which always went through a bureaucracy of agencies. They have a direct line to Murphy, who will take their phone calls.
But since their assignment also requires a bit of salesmanship, the two acknowledge that the title of “czar” might be modified to something else.
“It didn’t work out so well for the last czar named Nicholas,” Glatt joked.