Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 47
 
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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Consolidation Study Moving Ahead

Dilshanie Perera

Work on gathering data about Princeton Borough and Township in the interests of studying consolidation and shared services is moving ahead smoothly, with Anton Lahnston noting that the consultant, the Center for Governmental Resources (CGR), has completed over 40 first-round interviews.

Mr. Lahnston, who is the chair of the Joint Consolidation and Shared Services Study Commission, said “I think it’s fair to say they’ve talked to the head of every department in the Township and Borough. Is that complete? No. There are more things, and as you discover them, you continue to document.”

Last week a first draft of a “baseline report” detailing collected data, information from interviews, finances, personnel numbers, and expenditures pertaining to most municipal departments was presented to the commission.

Agreeing that much still has to be done by the commission and the consultant, Mr. Lahnston characterized CGR’s process in acquiring both quantitative and qualitative data as “a very elegant approach and very sound.”

Upcoming on the consultant’s agenda is a visit to the Department of Public Works sites, but Mr. Lahnston acknowledged that already “a lot of the groundwork has been done. They have a lot of data and bringing it together, peeling it back, and reading the reports that have been given to them is part of the task.”

“The data needs to be informative. You need to be able to digest and understand it.” he noted. “That’s one of the things they’re looking at for us and with us.”

Calling it a “work in progress,” Mr. Lahnston anticipated that the submission of another report at the end of this month will allow for an even closer look into the operations of both municipalities, calling it a “big step beyond what we looked at last week, not in terms of volume, but in terms of specificity.”

Once the baseline report is submitted, the consolidation and shared services study commission’s five subcommittees will begin work in earnest. The subcommittees are comprised of three to five members of the commission and focus on full municipal consolidation, the police departments, the public works departments, municipal finances, and community engagement, respectively.

Mr. Lahnston observed that the first three subgroups would probably need all the data from the report before moving forward, but that the finance subcommittee has begun “to look at the comparative budgets between the Township and the Borough,” and the community engagement group is strategizing where to focus their attention, how to provide residents with data and information regarding future recommendations, and how to proactively engage the community and the various populations within it.

Next steps for both the commission and the consultant will involve a close analysis of the “options and opportunities” for sharing services, Mr. Lahnston said, careful to note that regarding recommendations, “at this point this is no decision or resolution because we don’t have the whole picture yet.”

In the meantime, the commission and representatives from CGR are in “regular communication,” with Mr. Lahnston reporting that “they’re there whenever we need them,” calling the consultants “great to work with,” “responsive,” and “experienced.”

“The experience they bring leads to some insights that we wouldn’t have normally considered,” he added.

Mr. Lahnston predicted that January would be when “the heavy lifting begins, when we’ll say: this is what we’ve got, and we need to make sense of it …. Where are the opportunities for shared services and consolidation?”

The next open public meeting of the study commission is on Wednesday, December 22 at 7 p.m. at the Township Municipal Complex.

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