The State Local Finance Board in Trenton on Wednesday approved an application calling for the creation of a commission to study a possible consolidation of Roxbury and Mount Arlington.
The ruling clears the way for the formation of a commission consisting of representatives from both towns to consider both the benefits and drawbacks of a merger.
The application was made by petitioning groups from both neighboring towns. Chris Rogers, a member of the Roxbury Taxpayer Education Association, known as Roxbury TEAM, said “We are thrilled that our application has been approved. Now the hard work begins. We are eager to form the consolation commission and move to the next step in the state-mandated process.”
Roxbury TEAM and the other petitioning group, Mount Arlington TEAM, formed in 2012, and each collected more than 400 signatures from the respective municipalities. According to the 2010 Census, Roxbury has about 23,000 residents, while Mount Arlington has about 5,000.
The process follows the guidelines of the Municipal Consolidation Act of 2007. Gov Chris Christie has supported the potential cost savings of consolidation and other shared service agreements, saying during a spring town hall meeting in Flemington that “provincial selfishness,” as well as civil service and collective bargaining rules, are blocking towns from realizing property-tax savings through municipal mergers.
Rogers said that the final job of the petitioners is to recruit unpaid professionals to staff the currently unfunded commission and they are in the process of soliciting resumes. Four voting members and one non-voting alternate member from each town will be selected by the petitioners, with each town also permitted to appoint one voting member and alternate provided they do so within 90 days.
It is possible for members of the petitioning groups to become commissioners, Rogers said, although he declined to say if he would apply for a seat.
With a representative from the state Department of Community Affairs and, because Mount Arlington already sends its high school age students to Roxbury, another representative from the Department of Education, “there will be 16 people in the room” when the commission meets.
“We hope the first meeting could be in September,” Rogers said.
While Rogers and others in the petitioning groups are happy about the finance board decision, Mount Arlington Mayor Arthur Ondish, a vocal opponent to the consolidation, denounced the decision as “good for Roxbury, bad for Mount Arlington.”
“I think it is unfortunate because nothing good can come out of this,” Ondish said. “Roxbury gains, Mount Arlington loses. Mount Arlington has worked very hard and made a lot of sacrifices to become the sixth-lowest-taxed municipality in Morris County. Plus we have great services and those will suffer.”
“I don’t believe bigger is better,” Ondish said. “I believe my (primary) election was a mandate that Mount Arlington residents don’t want this.”
Ondish won a heated Republican primary battle last month against Councilwoman Paula Danchuk, who favored the formation of the commission.
“I think the voters of Roxbury and Mount Arlington are smarter than that,” Rogers said of of Ondish’s opposition. “In the end, they can test us on that.”
“The solution is to provide benefits for both townships and then let the public decide in the election process,” said Craig Heard, another Roxbury resident and petitioner.
The Local Finance Board decision was unanimous, according to Tammori Petty, director of communications for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs. She also said no one testified in opposition to the plan.
Staff Writer William Westhoven: 973-428-6627; firstname.lastname@example.org.