Maybe the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the primary state agency that works with municipal governments, doesn’t want to see any towns merge. Maybe DCA Commissioner Lori Grifa or someone else in the DCA isn’t eager to see towns start merging because if there are fewer towns, there might be less work for the DCA to do, and then the DCA could get downsized.
Perhaps that’s far-fetched, but the DCA’s rigidity in its decision last week to deny an application for Merchantville and Cherry Hill to study the possibility of merging is a head-scratcher.
The idea behind passing a state law in 2007 to encourage municipalities to explore potential mergers and save taxpayers dollars was a sound one. Equally sound was having the DCA provide money for towns interested in researching a merger to conduct a formal study. After all, it would be impossible to ask voters in two or more towns to go the polls and vote on merging their governments into one unless they had detailed data on exactly how much money would be saved. Thus, the need for studies.
So then, we come back to the DCA’s decision regarding Merchantville and Cherry Hill. In tiny Merchantville, which abuts the northwest corner of Cherry Hill, an organized group of citizens fed up with rising property taxes has pushed for a merger with Cherry Hill. There are other motivations at play, as well, not the least of which would be a school district merger and a chance for Merchantville kids to move on eventually to Cherry Hill’s highly rated high schools.
The citizens group, Merchantville Connecting for the Future, met the benchmark of getting signatures from more than 10 percent of the registered voters in the borough who voted in the 2009 election.