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New Jerseyans back sharing police, fire and schools

NEW YORK (Reuters) - To save money, most New Jersey residents would support sharing police and fire departments and schools, a poll said on Monday.

Although critics say sharing emergency services risks delaying the arrival of emergency personnel during crises, the survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University's PublicMind found 71 percent of the 711 voters polled backed sharing services.

New Jersey has one of the nation's most decentralized forms of government, with 566 municipalities.

Governor Chris Christie has proposed abolishing some of the statutes that thwart cities and towns from sharing services. One statute Christie opposes, for example, requires that public workers who are laid off as a result of a shared services agreement between towns receive severance pay.

Christie is one of a number of governors around the nation who are squeezing unionized public workers, saying their cash-strapped states can no longer afford the often-generous health and pension benefits that have been promised.

Public employees have fought back, saying that historically they have been paid less than the private sector.

Some states, including New Jersey, have skipped required pension contributions, deepening pension shortfalls.

Although New Jersey localities traditionally have been reluctant to cede local control, Peter Woolley, a political scientist and director of the university poll, said voters appear more focused on finances.

"Given every town's problems with tight budgets, high property taxes and pension contributions, perhaps sharing services is an idea whose time has finally come," he said.

"It used to be that shared services were a good idea for someone else's town," he said. "Now voters are suggesting it's a good idea for their town too."

A Christie spokesman had no immediate comment on the poll, which had a margin of error of 4 percentage points and was conducted from March 29 to April 4.

(Reporting by Joan Gralla; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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