“In these difficult fiscal circumstances, every level of government – local, county and state – must set budget priorities that are responsible, that focus on providing essential programs and services, and that don’t waste taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” said Governor Chris Christie. “The Best Practices Initiative has proven to be an effective tool at getting local governments to budget within their means, improve their operations, and find ways to eliminate waste, abuse and fraud. By focusing on efficiency, enacting a real cap on property taxes, providing significant budget savings from our historic pension and health benefits reform, and doubling direct property tax relief to residents, we are finally giving New Jersey families the lasting property tax relief they need.”
The Best Practices Initiative was authorized through the Fiscal Year 2012 State Budget enacted last month. It is designed to provide standards by which local government officials can perform an assessment of municipal and county operations.
The first year of the Governor’s Best Practices Initiative, an 88-question survey of good government guidelines for Fiscal Year 2011, was very successful, with 374 of the state’s 535 calendar year municipalities indicating their adherence or commitment to implement 85 percent or more of the best practices. To view a full score sheet of each calendar year municipality and its Best Practices Checklist result for FY 2011, go to http://www.nj.gov/dca/lgs/bestpractice/2011_best_practices_model.pdf on the DCA website.
The 2011 checklist includes 50 questions in categories such as General and Financial Management including budget preparation and disclosure, Health Insurance, Personnel and Public Safety. In an effort to track the progress of municipalities’ adoption of and conformance with best practices standards, some of last year’s lowest-scoring questions were included in this year’s survey. Responses are due on September 1 for local governments that operate on a calendar year budget and April 2 for local governments that operate on a fiscal year budget.
This year, for the first time, county governments will be asked to voluntarily fill out a modified version of the Best Practices Checklist. Counties generally comprise a smaller portion of local tax bills than municipalities and school districts, but they are large, regional operating entities with budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars and workforces numbering in the thousands.
“While counties will not be penalized this year for choosing not to complete the survey, we are strongly encouraging them to use this opportunity to self-critique their operations and consider how other local governments are conducting business,” said Department of Community Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Lori Grifa. “This is especially important since counties, like municipal governments, now operate within the constraints of the State’s 2 percent tax levy cap. Local governments will benefit from their efforts to complete the Best Practices Checklist because it encourages new ways of thinking about providing services and controlling costs.”
Unlike counties, municipal governments will need to meet an established percentage of the checklist items in order to receive all or part of their final state aid payment. As last year, municipalities will be able to answer each question with “Yes”, “No”, or “Prospective Implementation”. They will also be able to mark “Not Applicable” provided an explanation is given. Credit will be given for all “Yes”, “Prospective Implementation”, and appropriate “Not Applicable” answers.