My mind gravitates back to doughnuts (or is it donuts) following up on a long-ago article, the Gaithersburg Doughnut Hole. The concept fascinates me. It occurs when a town completely envelopes a separately-governed entity, generally another town. That leaves a doughnut town — one with the hole in it — and a doughnut-hole town, the one occupying the void like a tasty cream filling.
That got me thinking about the etymology of doughnut. I get the dough part. What about the nut? Thank goodness for Google which led me to a plausible explanation: the original doughnut was a dough ball that resembled a nut when cooked, I guess because it was round and somewhat brownish. Doughnuts didn’t gain their ring shape until somewhat later, perhaps due to problems with gooey uncooked centers. Thus, a doughnut two hundred years ago resembled what today one might call a doughnut hole, I mean the snack and not the void. No, I have no idea where this is leading either. Let’s move on.
New Jersey seems to have an overabundance of towns in general: 566 municipalities, and by my quick unscientific count as I squint at a map, 22 of them completely filling the center of a doughnut with no neighbor other than the surrounding town. Magnificent!
One situation has even drawn the attention of the Newark Star-Ledger as part of their series, "New Jersey Towns that Shouldn’t Exist."
Chester Township envelopes Chester Borough completely. The township has a larger geographic footprint and a population of about 8,000 inhabitants. The borough is much smaller both in size and population, with about 1,600 people, but with considerably greater density. Google Maps doesn’t do a great job with town boundaries but you might be able to just barely see the slight shading that approximates the area of Chester Borough, the doughnut hole.
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It was all one happy Chester from its founding in 1700 through the split in 1930. Their irreconcilable differences sprang from a dispute about water and sewers. People in the densely-populated borough wanted a municipally-operated system, while those in the larger rural fringe didn’t want to pay for something they couldn’t use. Times have changed. Little differentiates the borough from the township anymore except a complete redundancy of local government services.
The two local governments have attempted to reconcile three times in recent years and have failed. It is currently stalled because of the general economic climate in New Jersey. The state is unable to help taxpayers that would be impacted adversely by the merger. Funds have dried-up at the state level so the two remain separated, for now.
You might enjoy other videos in the "Towns that Shouldn’t Exist" series. Currently East Newark and Hi-Nella have been featured but if you’re reading this article far in the future there may be others. The host is a bit sarcastic and snarky but the stories are entertaining.
New Jersey does have a rampant municipality problem. It also has the highest real estate taxes in the country in order to pay for all those tiny and redundant town halls, police forces, fire departments, school systems, sewers, and all the other necessities one expects from local government. It is grossly, expensively, grandly inefficient. Segmentation that made sense in horse-and-buggy days doesn’t always translate well into the modern age. It is completely unbalanced.
People in New Jersey are rational beings and realize it’s out-of-control. Elected officials have attempted to use legislation to either encourage or compel solutions to the situation. Public interest groups such as Courage to Connect NJ continue to shine a spotlight on the pertinent issues. It’s hard to remove two hundred years of inertia.
What is the smallest New Jersey town, you might wonder? Tavistock (see map). It had five residents as of the 2010 Decennial Census. There’s a bit of fakery involved. It came about in the 1920’s solely so that members of a Country Club to play golf on Sundays. The smallest "real" town (recognizing that there are other fake golf course towns) is Walpack (see map). Only sixteen people live here, which is down from a high of nearly four-hundred residents as recently as 1970.
I love doughnuts, whether the town or the snack. However I also recognize that doughnut towns do create certain financial inefficiencies. While it makes complete economic sense to consolidate these geographic areas, I have no problem with small entities as long as their residents are willing to pay for the privilege. Even golfers.
After all, 12MC wouldn’t exist if someone removed all of the geo-oddities.