Scotch Plains and Fanwood residents in favor of merging the two towns made history on February 15, becoming the first neighboring communities in the state to petition the Local Finance Board to commission a study on what consolidation would mean for the SPF tax payers.
Over the past year, this community has seen an escalation in discussions regarding shared services, including a possible police merger. Fanwood Mayor, Colleen Mahr, who has dedicated much of her time as Mayor to revitalizing downtown Fanwood, has remained adamant in her opposition to full consolidation. However, Scotch Plains Mayor, Nancy Malool of has openly voiced her support for pursuing a municipal consolidation study, under the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Act, passed in 2007.
Courage to Re-connect is the local grassroots organization that created the petition to commission the consolidation to study. The organization was founded by Scotch Plains resident, Fred Lange. Courage to Re-connect receives support from Courage to Connect New Jersey, a non-profit, non-partisan organization committed to assisting municipalities to study consolidation where appropriate.
Frustrated with rising taxes, Lange formed the organization in 2010. Backed by a firm belief that consolidation was the answer to rising costs, Lange mobilized members of his community to support a municipal study.
In order to commission the study, Lange had to get 10 percent of voters in Scotch Plains and Fanwood who voted in the last general election to sign the petition. Lange exceeded that requirement, collecting over 1000 signatures.
“Initially, I went door to door to have our petitions signed,” Lange said. “Ninety-two percent of the people in Fanwood and 98 percent of the people in Scotch Plains with whom I spoke supported what I was doing. This is really a citizen-driven initiative. We’re the ones who want to study a consolidation by an overwhelming majority.”
On January 17, the Scotch Plains Town Council passed a resolution declaring the Council’s support of the municipal study being pursued by Courage to Re-connect. Councilman Mickey Marcus was the only opposing vote.
The resolution also stated that the Council would be in favor of consolidation with Fanwood as long as the quality of the municipal services was not diminished and the public safety of residents was not jeopardized. Speaking in support of a consolidation study at a January 4 meeting, Councilman Kevin Glover pointed out that because the two municipalities share schools, 65 percent of consolidation is already done.
The resolution also notes that this process allows the residents to ultimately decide through a referendum whether or not they support consolidation after first receiving the opportunity to review all of the information provided by the study.
The resolution also urges Fanwood to join Scotch Plains in support of a consolidation study. Mayor Malool expressed her views on this matter during a December 8 Council meeting, where this resolution was first discussed in detail.
“I have been in favor of studying this for years and Fanwood refused to participate. We need to put our cards on the table. The people have spoken, and they want to know whether or not merging the towns will save them money,” Malool said.
The application for the municipal consolidation study prepared by Courage to Re-connect will be presented during a statewide municipal consolidation workshop, to be held March 28 at the Days Inn in East Brunswick. The event is open to the public. After learning of Courage to Re-connect’s historic step towards studying consolidation, Gina Genovese, founder and executive director of Courage to Connect New Jersey was compelled to comment.
“Today helplessness has been replaced by action,” she said. “The taxpayers now know they have the power."