Local Finance Board Hears Consolidation Study Commission Application

Both sides of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood consolidation testified in front of the Local Finance Board last Wednesday.

The hearing, held at the Department of Community Affairs building in Trenton, lasted about an hour and saw a comprehensive discussion about the proposed Municipal Consolidation Study Commission.

According to the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Law of 2007, three public hearings were mandated before Courage to Re-connect, the organization in favor of consolidating Scotch Plains and Fanwood, could move forward with a consolidation study. These took place in mid-June and and elicited an from residents.

Prior to the public hearing, Courage to Re-connect had to get of voters in Scotch Plains and Fanwood who voted in the last general election to sign the petition, as well as a committee of five petitioners from each municipality to sign the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Municipal Consolidation Application, which was presented to the Local Finance Board Wednesday.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the board heard testimony from Executive Director of N.J. Courage to Connect Gina Genovese, Courage to Re-connect Founder Fred Lange, and Don Parisi, a member of the coalition.

Genovese testified that if approved by the Local Finance Board, this would be the first time that citizens from two communities in New Jersey would use the Municipal Consolidation Law of 2007 as part of an effort to pursue municipal consolidation.

She said the law was created in 2007 to give voters the opportunity to have a consolidation study in spite of a lack of support from local officials.

Genovese said the petitioners have been very open and honest with their elected officials, and have gone above and beyond in their desire to work with the town officials, as this measure is not necessitated in the law.

“They have to work together; this is something that has to be collaborative,” she said.

According to the application presented to the Local Finance Board, the consolidation study commission would consist of five residents of Scotch Plains and five residents of Fanwood, 10 commissioners in total.

Two commissioners from each municipality would be selected by the committee of representative voters, and two commissioners from each municipality would be selected by each municipal governing body. These four commissioners from each municipality would then jointly select their fifth and last commissioner.

According to the organization, the study commission would be funded without taxpayer dollars and would be responsible to look into potential savings, what a combined town would look like, and all the potential downsides.

Many Fanwood officials, however, have not been bashful about their distrust of a possible consolidation study, including Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr, Borough Attorney Dennis Estes, and Former Councilwoman Donna Dolce, who also testified during the hearing Wednesday.

In the past, Mahr has been vocal about her desire to move forward with shared services as a faster means of achieving savings.

Additionally, much of Fanwood’s distrust of Courage to Re-connect’s movement comes from a lack of participation from the five Fanwood petitioners who signed their names to the application.

The Local Finance Board addressed this concern by asking that the ten petitioners on the application provide brief biographies, as well as an outline of how these petitioners would choose their commissioners before they vote.

Six members of the Finance Board attended last week’s hearing, and the Finance Board will vote on the application on September 12. 

“This is just democracy at its best,” Genovese said.

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