Teams of residents from Mount Arlington and Roxbury have what they believe are a sufficient number of voter signatures to start the process of a study on the merits of consolidating the two municipalities that border Lake Hopatcong.
The teams and the New Jersey Taxpayers’ Association had gathered 477 signatures of voters in Roxbury and Mount Arlington by Saturday night, or more than enough to satisfy a petition requirement that there be signatures at least equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last general election for legislative office. Taxpayers’ Association President Chris Rogers said he will spend the next few days cross-checking signatures against registered voter lists, and has been conferring with Gina Genovese, the former mayor of Long Hill Township who founded Courage to Connect NJ, which educates residents and public officials on municipal mergers and consolidations. Rogers said he is working with Genovese — who aided in the voter-approved consolidation in September of several school districts into the South Hunterdon Regional School District — on filing a necessary application for a consolidation study with the state Department of Community Affairs. The Municipal Consolidation Act encourages contiguous municipalities to consider consolidation. If an application is in order and sufficient signatures are amassed, governing bodies normally would choose representatives to sit on a study commission and DCA would conduct an objective fiscal analysis. At the end of 10 months and based upon recommendations for or against consolidation by the study commission and DCA, the question of merging could be put before voters in a referendum. Elected officials in Roxbury could not immediately be reached but Mount Arlington Mayor Art Ondish said he is “open to exploration” but generally is opposed to consolidating the borough and township that he sees as far too different. Ondish said the borough already saves money by sharing health services with Mount Olive and animal control services with Jefferson. “I’m open to exploring any opportunities to save money but I don’t believe the numbers are going to show a merger is beneficial to Mount Arlington. I believe smaller is better and in a small borough like Mount Arlington you have more accountability and more control,” Ondish said. Roxbury is 21.9 square miles in size and had 23,324 residents as of the 2010 U.S. Census. Mount Arlington, by comparison, is 2.9 square miles and had 5,050 residents as of 2010. The two municipalities also have different forms of government and different levels of debt. Rogers, a Roxbury resident, said he believes Mount Arlington is a natural fit to the township, which heavily surrounds the borough. He said that some resistance to studying consolidation could be “tied to egos and politics.” “Obviously we don’t have all the answers but every town is looking to reduce taxes while trying not to reduce services. Consolidation doesn’t mean you have to gut services,” Rogers said.