How a trade group helps managers manage through the pandemic

Millburn saw the tough financial times coming. Early on with schools closed, Millburn saw it could save $50,000 a month by laying off all 36 of its crossing guards.

“Never an easy decision when you’re going through this kind of thing,” said Millburn business administrator Alex McDonald.

McDonald says the town is too small to qualify for a penny of the billions of federal stimulus dollars intended to help make ends meet. They needed to get creative and resourceful. McDonald is the president of the 250-member New Jersey Municipal Management Association.

“It’s been an absolutely invaluable group of people and professionals during this time,” he said.

An example of the proven value: Manchester’s assistant business administrator created and shared a “Save the Trip to Town Hall” document with the administration. It lists departments, services, websites, email addresses and phone numbers. McDonald says it’ll have benefits beyond the pandemic.

“A lot of people took that document, made modifications to it, made it their own. We were able to share that without necessarily reinventing the wheel. And that has occurred throughout this entire process. If somebody had a document that would be useful they shared it and we were able to sort of get through some of these things without each town having to come up with a separate for or a separate document,” McDonald said.

Another example: The association hired an attorney to keep track of and summarize for all local government managers the pandemic information on finance, personnel, health and much more from the different levels of government.

“Every manager would be trying to cull through this all this information on their own. Honestly, it would be impossible. There’s a mass amount of information coming from every level and working together we’ve actually managed to close the gap between activity and accomplishment. You have to be able to accomplish things on a daily basis to make a difference to your residents, to make a difference to managing a town. Individually that could not be done based on the current circumstances,” said Fair Haven borough administrator Theresa Casagrande.

The collaboration among local governments has been growing through shared services agreements to save local dollars and keep property taxes in check. Those agreements might become more attractive because of the pandemic’s shutdowns and shortfalls of revenue.

“As a result of this, I think it will also open up some of those doors,” McDonald said.