Freeholder H. James Polos
Chair, Public Works, Transportation and Shared Services Committee

County-to-County Initiatives Explored
 for Cost Savings, Increased Productivity

JANUARY 15, 2009 – Officials from five Central Jersey counties are discussing ways they could band together to save taxpayer dollars through sharing services and cooperative (bulk) purchasing.

Middlesex County Freeholder H. James Polos, chairman of the County’s Public Works, Transportation and Shared Services Committee, convened an initial meeting last fall to gauge interest from the contiguous counties in establishing partnerships in a number of areas.

As a result, Middlesex County is scheduled to hold on Jan. 27 the first two workshops to focus on specific initiatives.

“I have always believed that government needs to work smarter and look beyond borders to best serve its residents,” Middlesex County Freeholder Polos said. “I am pleased with the enthusiasm of our surrounding counties to meet and develop a strategy for sharing services and cooperative purchasing. This endeavor will be a true partnership where each county shares the responsibility for its success.”

Officials from the partnering counties will gather Tuesday, Jan. 27 at the Middlesex County Fire Academy in Sayreville to discuss sharing opportunities for transportation and medical examiner services.

When Freeholders, County Administrators and Shared Services Directors from Middlesex, Mercer, Monmouth, Somerset and Union counties first met in November for the Central Counties Cooperative Caucus meeting, they listed a number of areas worth investigating.

Topics ran the gamut from jointly purchasing commodities to possibly sharing services for housing juvenile offenders, medical examiner operations and expanding regional transportation opportunities.

“It’s important for us as counties to put specific plans in place to benefit all our residents,” said Union County Freeholder Chairman Angel G. Estrada. “The will to move forward is here.”

Estrada was particularly interested in exploring cross-county public and medical transportation opportunities. He explained that the closing of Muhlenburg Hospital in Plainfield necessitates the need to transport patients to hospitals in other counties, including JFK Medical Center in Edison (Middlesex County).

Somerset County Freeholder Director Peter Palmer said his county enjoys very successful shared services programs with its municipalities and school districts, and operates Raritan Valley Community College with neighboring Hunterdon County.

Also, Somerset County sends its juvenile offenders to the Middlesex County Youth Detention Center under a 1998 agreement through which Somerset paid for a portion of the construction costs and contributes to the operating costs of the Middlesex County facility.

Palmer said he is particularly interested in any agreements for school transportation.

“Education is a rather expensive proposition in the state of New Jersey,” Palmer said. “I’d like to explore if there is anything that could work there.”

Monmouth County Administrator Robert Czech summed up his county’s interest: “The dollars dictate that we do this in terms of saving taxpayer money or increasing productivity. All counties here today share that commitment. Today’s meeting is a good foundation.”

Nancy Coffee, Shared Services Coordinator for Mercer County, said working together makes sense: “We share a lot of commonalities, especially in emergency preparedness and in having to meet new FCC regulations for radio interoperability,” said Coffee, who also voiced Mercer County’s interest in exploring agreements for services for juvenile and adult corrections.    

Polos said the timing is right for such discussion: The State has made sharing services a priority and is providing funds for such endeavors. Polos said each county also now has a Shared Services Director dedicated to exploring and implementing initiatives.

The directors compose the membership of the New Jersey Shared Services Association (NJSSA).

Monmouth County Freeholder Barbara J. McMorrow echoed Polos’ words: “Sharing services was something elected officials only talked about, but now we are actively seeking projects we can do together. With our national economic downturn that makes us all do more with less, working together is an obvious solution across county lines and within counties that just makes financial sense.”

Each county agreed to host specific workshops in its county and be responsible for the implementation strategy for that particular area of County government. Additional workshops will address: pharmaceutical and medical services for adult corrections, juvenile detention services, information technology, purchasing and education.