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Fanwood Mayor Voices Concerns About Consolidation Study

Mayor Colleen Mahr feels Fanwood residents lack support of study

 

The Mayor of Fanwood, Colleen Mahr, recently expressed that her concerns about a proposed consolidation study for Fanwood and Scotch Plains lie with who the Fanwood Courage to Re-connect members are and the fact that, to her knowledge, there are no Fanwood residents in support of the study.

Courage to Re-connect is the organization leading the movement for consolidation, route: {:controller=>"articles", :action=>"show", :id=>"spf-residents-take-historic-step-towards-consolidation-of-neighboring-towns"} --> of Fanwood and Scotch Plains. Three meetings have been held to gauge community support.

At the , tensions ran high about Courage to Re-Connect and at the , residents were still voicing their concerns.

In mid-August the Finance Board met to and last week the Board of the two towns.

"My objections throughout the process have been that it has been promoted through Courage to Re-connect," Mahr said. "If Fanwood wanted it, I'd have no objections"

Mahr noted that she has never seen the Fanwood residents on the Courage to Re-Connect board.

She said she has only heard that the people of Fanwood were distrustful because the faces of the organization were from Scotch Plains and Long Valley.

Mahr's concerns lie in the fact that there has been a lack of support from Fanwood residents since the beginning.

"I don't fear any saving of tax dollars. Our record shows I support that." 

The town has been dedicated to cutting costs where it can, she noted. For example the town has outsourced its dispatching to the County of Union and looked to shared services, such as the Board of Education, Health and Animal Control.

Mahr mentioned she had not received one call in support of the study. At meetings, no-one has come forward wanting to pursue the study.

All three public meetings held regarding the consolidation study were neither chaired or ran by any Fanwood residents, she stated.

In addition, Mahr says that the fact that there is name or face representing the consolidation study has created skepticism about the process as well as negative atmosphere.

Mahr noted that she understands that this is just a study and not an actual consolidation.

Last November, after their fourth try, the Borough and Township of Princeton approved a consolidation of Princeton. Mahr looked at this consolidation as an example for Scotch Plains and Fanwood.

Mahr said, Courage to Re-Connect would need to raise at least $50,000 for a well-executed study. She pointed out that the shared service study a few years back cost about $40,000 with a grant from the state of New Jersey. She also stated that the baseline contract for the facilitator in Princeton was $80,000. Patch is checking into the costs for the Princeton consolidation.

Mahr also believes that a significant portion of the work will be done by local municipal staff.

In Fanwood, she said, staff already wear two to three different hats. She said that having this study be a part of the community for the next few years will take those employees away from their day-to-day tasks.

The main takeaway, said Mahr, is that she is not afraid of discussions or having a study. However, she feels that the current effort is not sufficiently grassroots.

According to Mahr, based on the emails she has received and that the finance board has received, as well as the comments at public meetings, there is no ground swell support to study consolidation.

At Tuesday's Council Meeting the consolidation study will be discussed further. Mahr encourages anyone with concerns or in support of the study to discuss this at the meeting which begins at 7:30 p.m.

Scotch Plains Mayor, Mary DePaola and Councilman Ed Sadariki

Barney Oldfield September 17, 2012 at 08:36 PM
There is only one way to determine if Fanwood residents support consolidation. One way that counts that is. To allow the process to go forward and the matter go to the voters. Seems like Mayor Mahr would like to steer us away from that.
faith September 17, 2012 at 08:39 PM
i agree. should go to the voters.
Holden MaGroin September 17, 2012 at 09:57 PM
I'm Holden MaGroin and I'm scratching my head trying to define "sufficiently grassroots". Below is the definition from dictionary.com. grass•roots   /ˈgræsˌruts, -ˌrʊts, ˈgrɑs-/ Show Spelled[gras-roots, -roots, grahs-] noun ( used with a singular or plural verb ) Also, grass roots . 1. the common or ordinary people, especially as contrasted with the leadership or elite of a political party, social organization, etc.; the rank and file. The Mayor, Council and the visible volunteers have been saying that they are suspect of this movement because they don't recognize the names or faces of the people who represented Fanwood to get the signatures. But based on the definition, it appears that they are not just the leadership, but also the social organization elite. I would term (with honestly no disrespect intended this time) that a lot of the normal volunteers would be termed the "elite" as well. Not because they are better than anyone else, but because they are the ones most known. By their heavy involvement, which SHOULD be applauded, they have in some cases come to believe that only they know best for the Borough.
Holden MaGroin September 17, 2012 at 09:57 PM
I find it hard to term them this, and it's almost impossible to express this without coming across as disrespectful, but a true grassroots movement is, by the above definition, the common ordinary rank and file citizens. These are the people that love their community, maybe go on class trips or read at church. They would like to volunteer to coach their children or clean up the Nature Center, but just don't have the time. Part of not having the time may be working the 2nd job, or having to spend that "free" time trying to do their own home repairs. Why?, because they want to stay in this community and have to choose between volunteering or doing what I state above. God bless those volunteers. We know their names, have appreciated their work, and have reaped the benefits of what they’ve contributed. But there is no contract that says if you put in so many hours, that you have any right to an additional vote on what happens in our community. If that is the expectation, I will include in another post the definition of volunteerism. It does not include the expectation of a payback beyond self gratification. I would also note that I use the word community, not township or borough. Stop and think of how many times we use either post office, convenience store, Chinese restaurant or pizza parlor. I don’t check the zip code before I choose my friends.
bgporter September 17, 2012 at 09:59 PM
I'm curious to learn how many calls were placed to Borough Hall in favor of merging the police and/or public works departments, which are both in progress. I agree with the Mayor that I'd rather none of our tax dollars be used to fund the consolidation study, but if that study is done and comes back with a believable set of numbers in favor of it, I'd like to think that folks would be in favor of the idea, and if not, to move on to more important matters. To be honest, I don't expect the bottom line numbers to be significantly better than what we'll see as the natural outcome of increasing shared services, but I'd still like to have some sort of analysis done that's more rigorous than a bunch of folks jawboning on Patch (and less biased than the existing shared services study). So, Mayor Mahr can put me on the list as the only person in Fanwood who is in favor of the study being done, if for no other reason than to have good numbers on paper that show why it's a rotten idea for reasons other than that the folks in the Inner Circle don't want consolidation to happen.
faith September 18, 2012 at 12:30 AM
great comments holden
firedup49 September 18, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Last November, after their fourth try, the Borough and Township of Princeton approved a consolidation of Princeton. Mahr looked at this consolidation as an example for Scotch Plains and Fanwood. How can you look at Princeton as an example. The consolidation is to start in January 2013. So there is no record of success or failure
haljalikea kick September 18, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Who knows how the consolidation study team will be chosen ? Am I interpreting correctly that, original petitioners from each town pick two each(4), each town picks two more each(4) and the group picks last two?
Nicole Bitette (Editor) September 18, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Hi haljalikea kick: Yes, the petitioners from each town will choose two, then each town council will choose two members and then each four person group will decide on a fifth, totaling a commission of 10 members.
Michael Lewis September 18, 2012 at 03:53 AM
Lost in the shuffle of this discussion is the fact that there is another item on the Sept 18 Borough Council agenda. The Mayor and Council will be taking up proposals made by a consultant to enhance downtown properties and integrate them into our Land Use, Planning and Zoning, so as to encourage property owners to invest in their properties (and standardize their look somewhat) for the benefit of themselves, residents and the Borough as a whole. So how does this tie in? We already have a building on the corner of Martine and South that is...certainly big. Like it or not, many aspects of the "big" part of it are actually out of the Borough's control, and the nature of the sort of stores (and offices) that would fill a downtown area is changing in ways that retailers themselves are still trying to assess. But one thing is certain: As things stand now Fanwood is going to be under continuing pressure to maximize revenues from its commercial properties simply to stabilize residential property taxes...like it or not, bigger (and denser) may be better for both developers and for the town's own coffers. How that ultimately happens needs to be discussed - openly. (cont'd...)
Michael Lewis September 18, 2012 at 04:09 AM
...(cont'd) On the cost side, significant items are either out of our control (sewerage costs, county taxes) or seemingly beyond our ability to change (school aid, as another poster observed elsewhere). My only point is that change IS going to happen in Fanwood. On the basis of everything I see now I am not going to like a lot of it. Eventually there may well be a consolidation though Scotch Plains itself faces many of the same cost pressures - a merger might well only be a respite (I would like to see some discussion of this aspect in the Commission report as well). But for the moment, I feel that I still have a voice that JUST MIGHT be heard as I contemplate the worst of all possible worlds: the gridlock of New York City, the traffic and townhouses of downtown Metuchen, the streetscape of Cranford, the parking enforcement of Westfield and a big less-than-attractive keystone building filled with lawyers.
Builda Wall September 18, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Excellent post. I have no doubt that in their heart of hearts there are a lot of people who would like to see the downtown remade in the image of Summit or Westfield, judging from what I hear at Scotch Plains council meetings, where the same Impossible Dream sometimes arises, but as you note, inside every Westfield is a Metuchen or Highland Park trying to get out. For good or bad, Westfield has successfully fought a parking deck for years; it's kept an eyesore at bay but kept the parking situation terrible. But the point is, it CAN be done if the true grassroots is organized and unified. (Cranford couldn't.) A consolidation could put you at the mercy of the same people who run SP's schizo zoning laws and water down the voice you have in how downtown Fanwood is built up, so there's a lot more to consider than just taxes. As I've said before, the intangible quality of life issues need to be recognized and incorporated into any decision by an informed populace.
Ken Braidi September 18, 2012 at 04:36 PM
You have to wonder how many residents the mayor has canvassed if she claims that "to her knowledge, there are no Fanwood residents in support of the study." Surely she should be able to find at least one or two residents who have an opinion different from her own: She does represent ALL of the Fanwood residents, doesn't she?
Michael Lewis September 18, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Bearing in mind that it was my team that was on the receiving end, I will simply observe that Mayor Mahr's reelection margin last year was 1518-627. It does not mean that she is always right, but she appears to represent a constituency that is fairly broad.
bgporter September 18, 2012 at 07:31 PM
Well, except for the folks who signed the original petition, right? (for those of you who not at the meeting in July, those folks were dismissed by speakers that night under one or both of the following 'arguments': 1. Obviously, anyone who signed this must have been tricked into doing so. 2. ...and anyway, I don't recognize any of the names on that petition)
haljalikea kick September 18, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Was there more than one petitioner at that meeting? I Only recall a guy named Dan something who identified himself as one of the Fanwood petitioners. I recall he said the Patch the non scientific patch poll proved residents wanted a study? Didn't hear him say where in Fanwood he spoke to residents about the petition or when that happened?
bgporter September 18, 2012 at 08:47 PM
One of the 5 Fanwood CRTC board members attended and stood to speak. Their application (downloaded from http://spfreconnect.wordpress.com/application/ ) lists a Dan Winigrad from Fanwood.
Michael Lewis September 18, 2012 at 09:04 PM
I will stipulate to both points without reservation, and to the fact that - barring the unforeseen - we WLL have both a study and a referendum. MY point was pretty simply what I said - my team got thumped last year and I suspect that Mayor Mahr's feel a large portion of her electorate was the overriding reason why.
Builda Wall September 19, 2012 at 06:29 AM
This video is from February but I just discovered it and am posting it in case others here haven't seen it either: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5h6rpGXo1ME
Susan Iaccarino September 21, 2012 at 07:07 PM
I couldn't agree more. I, admittedly, have not attended these meetings but can't imagine that a consolidation study proposal rests in the hands of a few. I am for consolidation if it means lower taxes, however, I'm afraid Fanwood is caught in a small town time warp, e.g., resisitance of change, period!

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