On Sept. 25, Gov. Phil Murphy issued two press releases announcing the administration’s commitment to assist school districts, municipalities and counties interested in sharing services or studying consolidation.
The first release announced that the N.J. Department of Community Affairs (DCA) is allocating $10 million to assist municipalities looking to promote and support local shared services and school consolidation studies. These funds were inserted by the Legislature into the FY2020 Appropriations Act signed by the governor in late June. According to the announcement, a new Local Efficiency Achievement Program (LEAP) will be housed in the DCA’s Division of Local Government Services, which will administer the funding and provide support to municipalities.
“The efforts announced here today enhance our administration’s ability to guide and encourage our state’s diverse communities that are interested in pursuing consolidation and shared services,” said Gov. Murphy.
A full copy of the release can be accessed on the DCA website.
The $10 million will be divided among the following three LEAP initiatives:
- Challenge Grants: $3,150,000 ($150,000 per county)
The LEAP Challenge Grant will allocate funds for compelling projects in each of New Jersey’s 21 counties, affording local governments the opportunity to compete for grant funding to support efficiency-generating shared services. Municipalities, local authorities, and counties will be challenged to collaborate on extensive partnerships that produce shared services of significance. To achieve impactful models that have the potential for replication, the grant winners will be determined based on scope of impact, breadth of collaboration, and efficiencies generated.
- Implementation Grants: $5,800,000
LEAP will provide Implementation Grants to support costs associated with shared services project completion or transition support. Eligible expenses will be for one-time reimbursable costs, including, but not limited to, new technology and equipment, rebranding, and training. Challenge Grant recipients whose efforts result in a shared service agreement may be eligible to receive Implementation Grant funds without a separate application. In addition, funding will be set-aside to partially support district and county-wide school consolidation studies.
- Shared Services Coordinator Fellowship: $1,050,000 ($50,000 per county)
Each county will be eligible to receive a grant to hire a young professional to work as a full-time shared services coordinator fellow within the county to identify shared services opportunities, with benefits provided by the county. During the one-year fellowship, the fellow will be paired with a senior-level county professional who will serve as a mentor. The fellowship is partly intended to inspire fellows to embark on a career in the public sector.
A second press release announced the launch of the Local Assistance Bureau (LAB) within the division of Local Government Services. The LAB will operate the three LEAP initiatives described above and provide onsite, hands-on technical assistance in a wide variety of areas to local governments at no cost. According to the release, “the goal of the LAB is to cultivate best practices in local governments and to link local agencies that might be facing challenges to the state’s comprehensive network of resources.” The LAB will also provide shared services and consolidation assistance to help towns achieve property tax savings.
“Our state is only as strong as our communities and the local governments that serve them,” said Gov. Murphy. “We want to help local agencies achieve excellence in government, which is why my administration is renewing the State’s partnership with municipalities through the Local Assistance Bureau.”
To obtain more information on the Local Assistance Bureau and the grant programs, local government officials can send an email to LocalAssistance@dca.nj.gov.
Following the announcement, Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3) and Senator Vin Gopal (D-11) welcomed the governor’s implementation of the shared services and school district consolidation grant program the Legislature established.
“K-12 regionalization, countywide school district pilots and shared services programs are a cornerstone of our Path to Progress plan to promote efficiency and lower property taxes,” said Senator Sweeney. “That’s why we created this new grant program in our legislative budget bill, and it’s important that the administration move expeditiously to get funding out the door to school districts, municipalities and counties who are eager to move ahead.”
“School regionalization and countywide school districts will enable us to expand curriculum and educational opportunities, while holding down the school property taxes that make up more than half of the property tax bill statewide,” Sweeney continued. “We have been meeting with leaders throughout the state from Sussex to Salem counties who are eager to make this a reality.”
According to the Senators’ statement, $2 million will be set aside specifically for K-12 regionalization and countywide school district pilots.
The application process and eligibility criteria for the grant programs are currently being developed. The Association will keep school districts apprised of any new information as it becomes available.
In February 2018, the NJSBA issued a study on impediments to regionalization. The study can be accessed here.