Elected officials from a number of Essex County towns gathered with constituents Saturday morning for the annual Meet the Mayors breakfast.
The free two-hour breakfast organized by the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area and several area chambers of commerce was held at in West Caldwell.
Speakers discussed a range of topics from the principle drivers of local budgets to shared services to the likelihood of consolidating towns within the county.
Special guest Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. said he strives to work together with both local and state government.
When he took the office of county executive, DiVincenzo said, he appointed liaisons from the county to attend town council meetings. This way if there is an issue that involves the county, he said, “We can resolve it right there.”
On the state level, the Democratic county exec said he is proud of the relationship he has with Republican Gov. Chris Christie.
“When I get elected, I’m there to serve Democrats, Republicans and Independents,” DiVincenzo said.
In his presentation, Verona Town Manager Joseph Martin said headcount is the most effective area to control the size of a municipal budget. Martin said approximately 60 to 65 percent of a local government’s budget pays for salary and benefits of municipal employees. He said turning off the copier when not in use or saving a few cents on pencils does not have a significant impact on a budget.
Martin said partnerships are also important. Verona partners with the county's Department of Public Works to plow roads and has a “laundry list” of shared services with neighboring Cedar Grove.
He said the “most substantial obstacle [to shared services] is the willingness to take risks.”
Cedar Grove Councilman Joseph Chiusolo said his role as an elected official is to help achieve “the most effective services with the least fiscal impact.”
Chiusolo said while shared services are vital he does not believe in consolidating municipalities. While merging police and public works departments sounds great in theory, he said, in reality, “There are lots of downfalls.”
He encouraged residents with cost-savings ideas to attend meetings and write letters to their representatives.
Martin, Verona’s Town Manager, agreed with Chiusolo’s view on consolidation.
“Consolidating is more of a feel good than a cost savings,” he said.
After the scheduled speakers, elected officials shared their success stories and answered questions from the audience.
Millburn-Short Hills Mayor Sandra Haimoff said her council recently moved to privatize garbage collection, which resulted in an annual savings of $800,000.
John Chiaia, a North Caldwell Councilman, said his community benefits from a regional school system and a shared municipal court with Essex Fells.
Montclair Mayor Jerry Fried took the question, what innovative things are mayors doing to bring new businesses into town?
Fried suggested taking a look at empty churches as a way to turn a non-ratable into a ratable. In Montclair, he said, a former Christian Science Church is being developed into 20,000-square-feet of office space.
West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta said his town benefits from a shared school system with Caldwell, a shared health department with Fairfield and much more.
PSE&G co-sponsored the breakfast, along with the Fairfield-based insurance company, Rand, Feuer & Klein.
“Anything we could do to support our elected officials and constituents getting together to discuss important issues can only move this state forward,” said Everton Scott, PSE&G Regional Public Affairs Manager for Essex and Passaic counties.
The event was organized jointly by North Essex Chamber of Commerce, Millburn-Short Hills Chamber of Commerce, Livingston Chamber of Commerce, Cedar Grove Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters of the Montclair Area.