Scotch Plains Candidates Debate Merger Issues
Saturday, October 27, 2012 • 10:17pm
SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – On Thursday evening, the Scotch Plains Fanwood Times sponsored a Political Forum at the Scotch Plains Town Hall, where each candidate was able to speak their minds on a variety of subjects.
Mayor Mary DePaola, Councilman Edward Saridaki, Councilman and Mayoral Candidate Kevin Glover and Council Candidate Colleen Gialanella all answered questions posed by Moderator Fred Rossi of The Times.
The consolidation talks with Fanwood were the first topic of the evening. Colleen Gialanella was the first to speak, addressing the concepts of consolidation and merging of services. She was surprised that Scotch Plains was not better represented at the Courage to Reconnect meetings this past summer. She voiced her concerns that the gains that were made regarding the consolidation of the police department and possibly some other services has been confused with the merging of the two towns. “Residents of Fanwood and Scotch Plains should understand that these are two separate issues.”
Mr. Ed Saridaki addressed the issue by saying that he is “very much in favor of any study that would give us the information that we need to follow through any type of consolidation of the two towns but I do have concerns about joining any two entities that have never been joined together before without solid data that shows that we would save money and that it would be good for the residents.” After the commission is formed it will be another three years before it could be put to a referendum vote.
The moderator, Fred Rossi, directed the next question to Mr. Saridaki first: Which municipal departments would work as a joint effort with Fanwood and do you think that tax payers in town would see any significant savings in property taxes.”
Mr. Saridaki responded by saying: “The police department is the number one highest line item in the budget for both municipalities. As long as we don’t sacrifice services to the community it makes sense to merge the two police departments if we can derive any kind of cost savings.” The department of public works is the second largest line item in the budget, if we can show that we can save money at it then it makes sense as long as it does not interfere with the services to the community. The recreation department, the libraries, the courts need to be scrutinized as they are not as big an item on the budget. The matter of merging the town councils could get really messy politically and is more of an emotional decision because of power and control.
Ms. Gialanella felt the negotiation process could be derailed by the issues of power and control." The negotiations processes were further damaged this week when the council approved an additional study, which set us apart."
Mr. Rossi asked the mayoral candidates the following:
“Do you think an outright merger of Scotch Plains and Fanwood would be a positive development?”
Mr. Glover responded, commenting that merging the communities somewhere down the line would make a lot of sense. It will probably yield the biggest savings to both of our municipalities. Mr. Glover sighted the study that was done three years ago, with a $50,000 grant, which showed the communities how we could save millions of dollars by consolidating some of our departments, specifically the police department and the department of public works. This could be done in months, not years, as consolidating a town would take. " We were getting very close to putting this deal together. Mayor DePaola changed the rules at the eleventh hour, by asking for a resolution for another study." The study would cost thousands of dollars and would confirm what the savings would actually be.
Ms. DePaola spoke next: "The consultant was to give us some outside objective viewpoint as to the running of the police force. None of the people on the committee have been in law enforcement."
Mr. Rossi's next question was about the police merger, and why it has taken so long. Ms. DePaola responded first. “Our previous mayor was not willing to concede to a joint meeting, (where Scotch Plains and Fanwood would have equal say on how the Police Force operated) and the rest of the council was.” She went on to outline how over the last couple of months, the feeling was that since the leadership in Fanwood is Democratic they were dragging their feet on actually attending some of the meetings, and" it’s probably because of the election."
Mr. Glover, in response, said that for years the mayor did not move on this shared program at all and to blame the former Mayor was “despicable”, and he also brought up the fact that the Mayor had not met or interviewed the special consultant that was “costing Scotch Plains $4,000.”
The discussion then moved on to how taxpayers could save money on taxes in general, without sacrificing services. Mr. Glover felt that twelve years of Republican leadership had seen too many cuts in services, and he felt that more “government efficiently” would save money without the loss of more services
Mayor DePaola replied that she had yet to see any solid options from Mr. Glover for cutting the budget and felt one needed “a scalpel, not a hatchet.” She pointed out that the new township manager would be very involved in looking at restructuring of staff and other cost saving measures.
The Candidates were then asked for their thoughts on the Special Improvement District (SID). Mr. Glover felt it was “a failure” and Mayor DePaola clarified that in the past she had indicated that the SID was “floundering” because of the poor economy and business were divided on where they thought SID money should be spent.
(More comments on the Sewer Utility and the much talked about Surplus will be posted tomorrow.)