Some say it was a long time coming. In November, more than a century after New Jersey's Princeton Borough seceded from Princeton Township over a school tax dispute, residents voted to bring the governments back together effective Jan. 1, 2013. The new Princeton will serve a combined population of roughly 29,000.
The move makes sense. The borough is completely surrounded by the township. Residents reached a resolution long ago about the 1894 tax dispute and combined schools. Today, the two communities share more than a dozen public services, including animal control and fire. Nevertheless, it took four tries since 1953 to get voters to approve a merger.
Even with shared services, the effort will encounter headaches. The onetime cost of the consolidation, as estimated by a joint commission, is $1.7 million. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie reportedly offered to pay 20%. As the two Princetons become one, police, public works, and other departments will have to be merged, with some anticipated layoffs to remove redundancies.
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Many of our largest cities, including Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and St. Louis, were defined — or redefined — by consolidation. The first occurred in 1805 when the City of New Orleans merged with Orleans Parish; in 1898, New York City absorbed what was then one of the nation's 15 largest cities: Brooklyn.
Since New Orleans, less than 40 city-county consolidations have been implemented, according to the National Association of Counties. But more than one-quarter of those have occurred since 1990.
Most fail at the ballot. The most recent attempt was in November 2010, when voters were asked to decide on a proposed merger between the City of Memphis and suburban Shelby County in Tennessee. The proposal narrowly won in Memphis, but was crushed by the county.
The number of city-city mergers is more difficult to tally. It's easier for small communities that are more dependent than big cities on state aid to gain voter support and successfully integrate.
For example, before voters approved last November's proposal to merge Princeton Township and Princeton Borough into “Princeton” (see page 34), the most recent municipal merger in New Jersey was in 1997 when Hardwick Township absorbed Pahaquarry Township, which had dwindled to fewer than a dozen residents.
In Minnesota, rural jurisdictions also are giving up home rule to merge with neighboring cities and pool resources.
The most recent occurred Jan. 1 when Hennepin County's final remaining township, Hassan, was annexed by the City of Rogers. The city's outward development and growing population combined with the township's need for infrastructure (Rogers has sewer and water utilities and Hassan doesn't) was a big motivator. According to the city's website, the combined jurisdictions also will have a “louder voice” in regional and state government.