Residents belonging to a grassroots group in Merchantville are believed to be the first to use a state law that allows people to petition for a merger with a neighboring municipality without the approval of their own elected officials. For all the talk of consolidating services in tough budget times, consolidation rarely happens in New Jersey. The Merchantville group may show merger-hungry residents in other municipalities that at least getting the process started can be done without great difficulty.
The group “Merchantville Connecting for the Future” needed only 127 signatures to affect its petition. Under the state law petitioners need at least ten percent of all votes cast by municipal residents in the most recent General Assembly election. The Merchantville group got more than 300 signatures. Meantime in neighboring Cherry Hill, elected officials voted in favor of studying consolidation.
“Cherry Hill mayor and council voted on a resolution and the people of Merchantville petitioned to have a study done,” said Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect NJ, a group that advocates consolidation of municipal services. “So it is a wonderful blend of the legislation which says local governments can participate and local citizens can participate.”