SCOTCH PLAINS — Fred Lange, a grandfather and amateur magician, was just enjoying his retirement.
Really. The Scotch Plains man, who’s pushing 80 but could pass for a lot younger, was living out his days with his wife, Doris, and paying no mind to local politics.
But that all changed a few years ago with a simple idea. What if, he wondered after hearing a presentation on the topic, his town merged with neighboring Fanwood? What if communities across the state did the same?
That could drive down property taxes and attract new companies to the Garden State, he surmised.
“This would be great for New Jersey — to be able to have more manufacturing, more business,” he said.
With that, he went from observer to activist. Now he’s the front man for a citizen-driven movement to consolidate the two towns, and his push is irritating some people along the way — even politicians who respect his ultimate goal of tax relief.
Lange, with guidance from a group called Courage to Connect New Jersey, rounded up about 30 volunteers and spent months collecting the signatures of voters from both towns. With more than 1,000 names, he was able to harness a 2007 state law and force a series of public hearings on the topic of consolidation. The last was held Monday.
Residents came out to argue for and against, and now his group will go before the state Local Finance Board in Trenton to push for a study on the feasibility of consolidation.