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Fanwood Council Meeting Sees Continued Discussion about Consolidation Study Last Night

The council meeting began with regular business and ended with a discussion about Courage to Re-connect's initiative to consolidate Scotch Plains and Fanwood.

spilled over into last night’s Fanwood Council Meeting, as both residents and council members spoke to Fanwood’s representation in the commission’s petition process.

The council meeting, held in Fanwood’s municipal building, began as any council meeting might, with roll calls, agendas, and votes. However, once the meeting was turned over to the public for comments, the topic of discussion quickly turned to Fanwood residents’ distrust of Courage to Re-connect, as well as the council’s issues with the Fanwood petitioners’ lack of participation at the public hearings.

Fanwood resident George Weiss said he contemplated his late wife’s favorite caveat when considering Courage to Re-connect’s motives. She said, “Things are not always as they seem. Skim milk masquerades as cream.”

However, Weiss commended Dennis Estes, Borough attorney, for his contributions to the previous discussions about the consolidation study and his ability to speak honestly about the issues.

Estes said last night that it was absurd for essentially one person, Courage to Re-connect’s founder Fred Lange, to have the authority to pick so many members of the study’s commission. He said this is not representative.

Estes also revisited the issue of financial support, stating the commission study could only move forward with proper funding. He said it would be pointless for the group to approach the Finance Committee in Trenton for approval if the committee were not able to go ahead with the study.

“So this whole process is really much ado about nothing if they can’t get the money, and in my opinion, that is a precursor, or precondition.”

Estes confirmed last night that he would attend the meeting in Trenton, tentatively set for August 8.

Fanwood resident Harry McNally complained Courage to Re-connect’s meetings would “pop-up” without much notice, similar, he said, to what would occur in a “dictatorship.”

“Who wants to vote?” McNally asked. “These are outsiders, it almost seems to me, that are pushing for some kind of vote that is going to require a lot of work, and money in a sense, especially if you are passionate about how the towns ought to work together.”

Fanwood Council President Russell Huegel encouraged residents to participate in the discussion process, especially those residents who signed their names to the Application to Create a Municipal Consolidation Study Commission.

“…We invite people who signed this petition to come to council meetings to voice their opinion about this effort, this endeavor,” Huegel said.

“…I have never witnessed anybody… coming to the podium and voicing their support for this…” he continued.

Despite lengthy discussions about the Courage to Re-connect initiative, the council meeting’s start was, for the most part, business as usual.

Of note was a brief presentation by David Trumpp, president of the Fanwood Lions Club. Trumpp presented a check of $300 to the Fanwood Fire Department, the Fanwood Rescue Squad, and the Fanwood Recreation Commission for aiding with last year’s Christmas tree fundraiser.

 “We couldn’t be as successful as we are without the support the community warrants the program,” Trumpp said.

Another notable discussion followed Councilman Robert Manduca’s Health report, which included statistics about Fanwood’s sewer system.

Manduca reported, according to the Plainfield Area Regional Sewage Authority, 14,259,000 gallons of water were flushed by Fanwood residents last month.  However, Estes said this is most likely the result of infiltration and in-flow, since Fanwood sewer pipes are so old that rain water often gets into sewer lines through cracks.

Councilman Anthony Parenti noted, however, that since this occurs before the water gets to reading meters, residents pay for this excess.

The options Fanwood faces are either paying to repair and replace some of the sewer pipes, or continuing to pay extra for water treatment.

According to Estes, the borough would essentially be paying the same price for either option.

Priorities July 18, 2012 at 12:16 PM
Was there any discussion on Fanwood being found giving away pension credits? http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2012/07/nj_comptroller_says_hundreds_s.html
Holden MaGroin July 18, 2012 at 12:44 PM
I’m Holden MaGroin and I have questions. From this Patch article dated 1/4/2010 the Fanwood mayor gave a speech high-lighting the accomplishments of the prior year and the work that is ahead. Here’s a quote from that speech.. “During her speech, Mahr acknowledged Fanwood’s responsibility to continue to try and keep taxes as low as possible, but was firm in her beliefs that the decisions made at the state level also have to improve. “Our pension costs for 2010 will be $542,955, an increase of over $280,000,” Mahr said. “So to strike home my point and deep frustrations, if the pension obligations weren’t on our back, the 2010 municipal tax rate would remain flat, meaning there would be no new taxes that would have to be raised to support our operations. The cost of providing local government here is efficient, and I really challenge anybody to find luxury or pork.” http://scotchplains.patch.com/articles/fanwood-officials-convene-for-start-of-new-year So to first answer the mayor’s question..I think we found some luxury or pork.
Holden MaGroin July 18, 2012 at 12:50 PM
I'm Holden MaGroin and these are my questions… Do we know how much lighter our backs will be when the incorrect pension credits get overturned? Since 80% of those found guilty were attorneys, is it the town attorney that caused the pork? Since the report said towns relied on their own attorney’s advice on this matter, did we also rely on the attorney to tell us that it’s ok that he remains in the pension system? Since the attorney said he’s going to the Trenton meeting, does that mean he gets a higher pension for all these merger meetings? If it's not the attorney's pension credits that we're wrongfully accrueing, what position is it? S.P. has a town manager to look over these things, who is the person that approved this for Fanwood? I guess that’s a start.
Michael Lewis July 18, 2012 at 12:57 PM
A question was asked about this seeking elaboration on why Fanwood was among the 58 entities being noted in the report. Mr. Estes indicated that the story broke in conjunction with the release of the report, and that the Borough Clerk would be following with the relevant agency in Trenton within the next several days to clarify the nature of the citation. As I interpreted the response, any violation could be technical in nature, but no one on this side is quite sure as of yet, including Mr. Estes.
Holden MaGroin July 18, 2012 at 01:15 PM
I'm Holden MaGroin and I would like to thank Mr. Lewis for going to all these meetings and keeping us informed. I'm glad to hear that it was at least aknowlidged. I'm still confused as to what is unclear to the town officials. The actual report says "OSC found, however, that an overwhelming majority of surveyed local government entities failed to comply with the statutory mandate to determine whether these professionals are independent contractors or employees. As a result, they have failed to remove ineligible independent contractors from PERS." http://www.state.nj.us/comptroller/news/docs/pensions_report.pdf Did they say if they would issue a public statement? Will you be going to the next meeting to ask?
Priorities July 18, 2012 at 01:27 PM
III. Methodology OSC commenced this investigation to determine if local government units in NJ have complied with the mandates of Section 7.2. We first obtained data concerning a subset of professionals who are providing services to municipalities and school districts (collectively referred to in this report as “local units”). We then cross-referenced the names of those professionals with PERS data and developed a list of 332 PERS-enrolled professionals providing such services. We determined that these 332 professionals were retained by 228 different local units. We sent survey letters to 58 of the 228 local units seeking information concerning these professionals and any other professionals retained by that local unit who have been participating in PERS after 1/1/08. We provided a draft copy of this report to all of the local units we surveyed, any other local units mentioned in the report and all professional service providers referenced in the report. In preparing this final report, we considered all of the responses we received and incorporated them herein where appropriate. OSC specifically requested from these local units relevant professional service agreements, appointing resolutions and information submitted to PERS by the local unit; any other information or documents relating to the local unit’s implementation of Section 7.2; and the statutorily required analysis concerning local professionals’ status as either an employee or an independent contractor.
Priorities July 18, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Yes, thank you Mr. Lewis. I've posted above, directly from the report, the methodology used. I cannot understand how they stated they needed to get a clarification. It seems clear from the report that the Borough had a draft copy of the report and were asked at some point prior to the release of the report for the information related to resolutions and contracts on these contractors. I hope this is just a technical violation as you state, but I will await an answer.
Ed Minall July 18, 2012 at 01:37 PM
Regarding the sanitary sewer I&I issue. The 14,000+ gallons of water utilized last month would have been mainly contributed due to household use consisting of flushing, showering, laundry, dishwashers, etc. We are currently experiencing drought conditions. Therefore, there would be minimal, if any, I&I into system last month. Prior to performing any repairs an I&I study would have to be completed. The study would consist of camering all the lines during the "wet season" of late winter/early spring when groundwater levels are the highest. The I&I study would reveal the extent of any repairs so budgeting could be allotted. There are some trenchless repairs, if applicable, that could be performed resulting in savings. An I&I study is a step in the right direction for both maintaining infrastructure while providing a savings by reducing the amount of wastewater being treated at the plant.
Michael Lewis July 18, 2012 at 02:46 PM
@Holden and @priorities - I had only seen the news story shortly before the meeting myself, and had not read the report, so I cannot comment on how long administrators might or might not have had it for review. I do intend to follow at the next meeting I attend (be it the Agenda meeting on 8/7 or the Regular meeting on 8/21). No mention was made of a public statement, but I am sure that if enough people email the relevant parties (you will find the addresses on www.fanwoodnj.org) I am sure you will get a response. On a side note, this touches on one of my broader points about the ongoing discussion about consolidation: things like this do not stay buried for very long in a place like Fanwood, and one can address them with some reasonable expectation of a response (and a reasonable ability to change things if one is not forthcoming). This, too, has a value.


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