A resident-driven effort to study a merger between Scotch Plains and Fanwood cleared a major hurdle Wednesday when the state Department of Community Affairs’ Local Finance Board granted it approval to form a study commission, but the group’s organizer said there’s still a long road to travel before the towns are consolidated.
“Some people want to do things quickly, and other people don’t,” said Fred Lange, of Scotch Plains, who spearheaded the formation of the group called Courage to Re-Connect. “We’re getting a lot of leads now for independent consultants to do the study, but we still need to appoint commissioners from both towns to move forward — and to do that, we’ll have to have a meeting with the two mayors to discuss what they’re going to do.”
Lange said 10 commissioners — five from each town, with four appointed by the mayors and councils of Scotch Plains and Fanwood — will oversee the municipal consolidation study, which will build on a state-funded shared services examination of the towns that was completed in 2010.
“Some things were left out of the shared services study because the people behind it weren’t concerned about the things that have to be tackled under consolidation … like the debt of the towns,” Lange said. “If the debt of one town is much larger than the other, then we’ll have to include in our study an assessment of unequal taxes or a fee or a charge of some kind.”
Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey, a nonprofit that educates residents about consolidation, said the towns’ possession of the shared services study — which estimated Scotch Plains and Fanwood residents would save a total of $2 million in taxes by sharing 11 municipal services like police and fire protection — will help them find an independent consultant to complete the consolidation study, since “the idea is, they’ll already have 11 other studies to work off of.”
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