ROXBURY, NJ – Dozens of Mount Arlington residents last night forcefully told the Roxbury/Mount Arlington Consolidation Study Commission they are not interested in seeing their borough become a hamlet of Roxbury even if it would bring a big decrease in property taxes.
Prodded by a social media campaign and word-of-mouth exhortations – efforts lambasted by commission Chairman Craig Heard as being full of inflammatory falsehoods – the borough residents jammed into the Roxbury Senior Center. They comprised most of the approximately 200 people attending the commission meeting and many loudly expressed anger, distrust and a “leave us alone” attitude.
The panel of volunteers, representing both municipalities, has been studying for four years whether a consolidation of Roxbury and Mount Arlington would yield any benefit to taxpayers. If approved by voters, the idea would be to dissolve both towns and form a new one in which Mount Arlington would be a section of Roxbury, similar in nature to Landing, Port Morris, Kenvil, Ledgewood, Succasunna and Lower Berkshire Valley.
Commission Chairman Craig Heard recently said the panel’s latest information showed that municipal consolidation would result in almost $12 million per year in cost savings for the towns and cut about $1,000 per year from the average Roxbury homeowner’s tax bill.
However, he also recently learned the state’s municipal consolidation law would require Mount Arlington’s tax rate to be equalized with Roxbury’s, a factor that would mean Mount Arlington homeowners would see no tax reduction.
Searching for a Solution
Heard said an expert in the state’s municipal consolidation law is looking into ways this situation can be avoided. If that can be done, Mount Arlington property owners would see tax bill reductions of about 10 percent yearly after a consolidation, he said.
But finding a way around the equalization problem is unlikely. The commissioners said they would not vote to bring before the voters a proposal that did not project tax savings for people in both towns.
If the equalization issue had not come up, the commission might have voted to have the consolidation question placed on the general election ballot this November. It’s now too late to have that take place.
The panel voted last night to seek from the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) an extension of its charter through December 2020. If the tax equalization matter can be resolved, and if the panel continues to find probable tax savings for both towns through consolidation, it might have the question placed on the November 2020 ballot.
However, people at yesterday’s meeting – including Mount Arlington Mayor Michael Stanzilis – resoundingly told the commission they want nothing to do with consolidation. Some said they did not want their borough to lose its identity.
Stanzilis said Mount Arlington doesn't need "a merger" to reduce taxes. However, the mayor said he’s a firm believer in some forms of cost-sharing between neighboring towns.
“I believe New Jersey is moving hard in the direction of shared services,” Stanzilis said. “We can accomplish what the merger is trying to do on our own. Smaller is better.”
Roxbury Mayor Bob DeFillippo, who is a member of the commission, and Roxbury Township Manager John Shepherd also oppose the commission’s effort. Both said the panel’s facts and figures are inaccurate, with DeFillippo contending the group’s investigations lacked professional methodology.
Heard, and others on the commission, said the municipalities – particularly Mount Arlington – have been uncooperative when it comes to providing data needed for the study. He challenged the assertions by Shepherd and DeFillippo, noting that former Roxbury Township Manager Chris Raths – who retired in 2017 - was much more cooperative than Shepherd and provided much of the information used by the commission.
Many people at the meeting said they only recently learned about the commission. Commissioners said the group's meetings have been open to the public and they noted much of its information can be found on its Facebook page and website.