State Finance Board Prepares to Vote on Consolidation Study Application
Wednesday, August 15, 2012 • 10:09pm
SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ - After three heated community meetings, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood merger study debate reached the State Local Finance Board on Wednesday, August 8th. Both sides of the debate had the opportunity to testify at the hearing at the Department of Community Affairs in Trenton. On September 12th, the Board will vote on whether or not a consolidation study will be conducted.
“Courage to Connect,” a non-profit organization created to assist New Jersey towns with the concept of consolidation, and grassroots group “Courage to Re-Connect Scotch Plains and Fanwood,” founded by Scotch Plains resident Fred Lange, talked about the potential benefits of consolidation . They had previously presented at three community meetings that had produced passionate reactions from residents and council members alike.
Scotch Plains mayor Mary DePaola pointed out that the Scotch Plains council had already passed a resolution in January in support of studying consolidation. “We were there just to listen,” DePaola remarked. “We’re interested in saving wherever we can...all I can say is on the Scotch Plains side, we already passed the resolution.”
The Fanwood Borough has gone on record that there were issues with the form of the petition from the beginning, pointing out in a long paper trail the various items in question. “There is a road map in the State Statute on how to do this, and from the beginning Fred Lang, a Scotch Plains resident, has been the face of this process. From the beginning we have pointed out that there were legal issues with the application. Instead of listening to what we had to say, they want to paint the local officials as protectionist, when nothing could be farther from the truth, “ said Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr.
Gina Genovese, Executive Director of Courage to Connect had previously stated that she felt that the group had sent in a very professional application. “My view is let the Finance Board decide on the validity of the petitions. Regulations are not totally in place for this type of thing, where citizens take the lead. I feel we left no stone unturned.”
Mayor Mahr has noted that while she is not anti-merger, she feels that a previous study has established that shared services is the best way to tax savings and points to the council's commitment on merging police departments, which is the largest line item in both towns budget and where immediate savings can be found. She also does not believe that the groups petitioning for the consolidation study have provided proof that they truly represent the will of the majority of residents of Fanwood.
“I understand that this is seen as a historic and unique application and the first of its kind, with residents coming forward instead of politicians to ask that the concept of consolidation be studied. However, it is supposed to be two community groups that come together, and the five Fanwood residents who are supposedly part of this process did not even came to the hearing in Trenton. I find that appalling. If I truly believed that this was a legitimate grass roots push, I would not have any objections. ”
When Fred Lang of Courage to Re-Connect was questioned in one of the previous hearings about why the Fanwood residents who had signed on as part of the committee where never seen or heard from, he gave a vague reply, saying that is was “difficult at times to find volunteers.”
“Too many people have voiced too many concerns regarding this process. I can’t sit by quietly and let this happen. I have to represent the people of Fanwood to the best of my ability and this concept has been a lightning rod from the beginning. There was even a petition against the application presented at this hearing. Based on all of these concerns, I truly believe that this application should not go forward,” concluded Mayor Mahr.
If the consolidation study is approved at the final hearing on September 12, a ten member commission including five Scotch Plains and five Fanwood residents would be created. The commission would not be funded by taxpayer dollars.
“One of the tasks of the commission is to determine what form of government the new entity will take, and that would be decided before it goes to the voters,” commented “Courage to Connect” representative Gina Genovese at a public hearing on July 16th. The commission would be tasked with determining the possible benefits and pitfalls of a merger.
Any resident who wishes to put forward their comments on this subject to the Board, can do so at the following e-mail address: email@example.com with’ Scotch Plains/Fanwood Consolidation Study’ in the subject line.