Residents in Scotch Plains and Fanwood took a first step toward merging their towns Wednesday by applying for permission to create a consolidation commission. The two municipalities already share a school district, a library and have talked about merging police departments.
If the state Local Finance Board approves the citizen-driven application — the first of its kind — the towns will begin holding meetings in April. The commission would apply for grants to fund the study, according to the application. Scotch Plains resident Fred Lange has spearheaded the effort. He formed a group, Courage to Re-Connect, about a year ago and has collected some 1,000 signatures to file the application, he said. “I found that over 90 percent of the people in Fanwood and Scotch Plains are in favor of having a study to merge,” he said. “Overwhelming response.” Lange’s group has a commission of five residents from each municipality. Their efforts, he hopes, will interest other taxpayers interested in cutting municipal costs. Scotch Plains, with 23,510 residents, has a much larger population than Fanwood, with 7,316, according to the 2010 Census. The citizen-driven model is possible because of the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Act of 2007, which outlines steps for residents to consolidate towns without local government participation. Gina Genovese, whose group Courage to Connect New Jersey helps such efforts, said this is the first time citizens of two communities have asked for a study with no involvement from elected officials.