Fanwood Residents Voice Opinions on Consolidation Study

Mayor Mahr lead Fanwood residents into discussion about the Consolidation Study.

Around 30 Fanwood residents turned out for the special meeting on the approved consolidation study held Tuesday evening at Forest Road park.

Mayor of Fanwood, Colleen Mahr, opened the meeting by addressing her decision to hold the meeting.

"Because this decision[Approval of the Consolidation Study], I felt, has such an impact on our community, I felt motivated to have a conversation with you," Mahr said. "We do our best when we come together."

Mahr outlined that the study has the potential to be woven into the community for up to the next three years.

The consolidation of the Princeton's, Mahr said is not an example because that was led by both governing bodies, whereas Fanwood-Scotch Plains consolidation is led by non-government members.

However, Mahr pointed out how the borough has continuing concerns with who the Fanwood members of Courage to Re-Connect are.

Before the three public meetings on consolidation were held over the summer, Courage to Re-connect had to get 10 percent of voters in Scotch Plains and Fanwood who voted in the last general election to sign a petition.

Mahr stated that she and the Borough Attorney, Dennis Estis, had issues on whether or not Fanwood residents understood what they were signing.

Some of the signers came forward saying they didn't understand what they were signing, but Estis noted The Local Finance Board dismissed this.

The Local Finance Board also dismissed Estis and Mahr's concern that none of the petitioners were from Fanwood and that the petitions were only circulated through one Scotch Plains resident.

"We were talking to ourselves," Estis said.

If this was a grassroots movement, Mahr said, we should see those people who were from Fanwood.

At the three public meetings and two hearings, only one of the five members of the Courage to Re-Connect committee showed up and it was only to one public meeting.

None of the five Fanwood residents appeared at the meeting last evening.

Mahr addressed again that she is not afraid of the study, but concerned where the move to conduct the study originated.

She pointed out that she is always for saving taxpayers money and that is why she feels Shared Services is a better option, rather than full consolidation.

For example, Councilman Kevin Boris said if they were to merge the police departments and if it ended up not working, the borough would have the option to go back to their own police department, as does Scotch Plains.

Although, he added, if both towns are consolidated, it is like they are married forever, without divorce.

Mayor Mahr also addressed that outside of Fanwood this is being touted as a great historic moment for New Jersey.


Public Discussion

When the meeting opened to the public, resident David Hale suggested that Fanwood is possibly the poster child for small towns in order to cut their funding, after Estis noted State Senator, Stephen Sweeney's S2 bill.

The bill has been pulled, but is still there if they had to go to it, Mahr said.

The S2 bill refers to towns in shared service studies and states that "if towns involved fail to either enter into a shared services agreement or pass the proposal by public referendum, they would be subject to losing state aid in the amount equal to what they would have saved had they shared the service," according to NJ.com.

Mahr and Estis said they 100 percent agreed on Hale's statement.

Paul Abbott who has lived in Fanwood since 1978 and grew up in Scotch Plains stated he would not like to see the two combine.

He referred to the money aspect of it, such as the combination of sewer taxes and a possible change of costs if Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School was no longer a regional school.

But a greater concern he held was with quality.

"You're going to lose quality," he said. "It's hard to put a dollar amount on quality."

Mindy Scarlett of Fanwood asked the big question of "where is the money coming from?" 

Which Mahr noted that the state umbrella organization of Courage to Re-Connect, called Courage to Connect, has already been soliciting via email for donations throughout New Jersey and it is up to them to fund the study.

One Fanwood resident asked what is the borough's options from here on.

Estis listed the options as:

   1. Go through with it and deal with the consolidation study, or

   2. Appeal the decision to the Appeals Court of the State of New Jersey, which must take place within 45 days of the Sept. 12 approval for the Consolidation Study.

Estis noted the cost of an appeal would be around $20,000.

Barbara Deegan addressed the council about the consolidation calling for a reevaluation of properties.

Mahr stated that the last time properties were evaluated was in 1983.

With the possibility of properties decreasing, Deegan felt that the consolidation fees should be made known and that it didn't seem like the consolidation would save money in any way.

Mahr added that back in 2009 when they completed a shared service study they determined consolidation was not the route to take.

Jason Benedict addressed the crowd rather than the council. He asked if anyone has heard from their neighbors or friends that they supported the Consolidation Study.

He added that his friends from Scotch Plains asked him, "Why would you want to do this?"

Michael Lewis responded to Benedict's question stating that he feels residents of Fanwood would like to see numerical justification, and that they would like to be presented with something tangible. 

A member of the press and Scotch Plains resident noted she felt this study would call for a lot of time and effort by town employees,  adding that if not done properly by an outsider could lead to a flawed study.

Council President, Russell Huegel looked at the Princeton's as an example pointing out that the transition costs are rising due to a flawed study.

Joe Nagy stated that the possible projected savings could be $100-$150 on taxes, which he felt is not worth combining for. 

Paul Madarasz admitted he thought consolidation and shared services were the same at first, now understanding the difference he asked why Courage to Re-Connect would not take that route first to see if it worked.

Mahr noted Shared Services and Consolidation are like apples and oranges, two different completely different items. Also adding that Courage to Re-Connect is coming at it from a completely different angle, not concered with Shared Services.

Harry McNally suggested we spend the $20,000 and appeal. He said this group of people, Courage to Re-Connect, is acting as if they have chosen to represent us when that is not the case at all.

"We're not talking numbers, the bottom line is the spirit of this town," McNally said.

He added there is about 2,600 to 2,700 taxpayers in this town, which is around $10 each for the study.

"Here I'll give you ten dollars out of my pocket now," he offered. 


Moving Forward

"A lot is at stake as this moves forward," Mahr said. "We aren't necessarily in the driver's seat"

From this point on Fanwood and Scotch Plains are still looking into the combination of Shared Servies, top priority being the combination of the two police departments.

Mahr added that the police department is one of the borough's largest expense and in an effort to cut costs this is the main option.

Courage to Re-Connect has to now choose four commisioners for a Consolidation Study Committee. Two of those will be for Scotch Plains and the other two for Fanwood.

Then both Scotch Plains and Fanwood council's will each choose two members to represent each town on the committee.

The four chosen people for each town will then choose the fifth member, for a total of a 10 person Consolidation Committee.

Mayor Mahr said she hopes the Courage to Re-Connect will be transparent about their choices for the committee and she also would like to reach out to them to find out what criteria will influence the decision.

Either way, Mahr told the audience, as the elected officials they will always be there to have the residents of Fanwood's backs and voice their opinions and concerns.

"At the end of the day it goes back to your hands," Mahr said. "Literally, this is the future of Fanwood"

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Nicole Bitette October 03, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Sorry Paul, I've changed the name to be correct.
Nicole Bitette October 03, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Hi Michael, Thanks for the additional information!
bgporter October 04, 2012 at 05:36 PM
IANAL, but looking at the actual text of S2 (which you can find here: http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/bills/BillView.asp?BillNumber=S2) it appears to me that things are getting mixed up -- my takeaway from the discussion here was implied that if this process were followed, put to vote, and then voted down, the towns would lose some amount of state aid, but that's very different from what S-2 says: "The bill provides that a LUARCC-recommended consolidation would not be binding on a municipality and there would be no penalty for failing to implement the consolidation. However, a LUARCC recommendation to implement a shared services proposal would be required to be placed before the voters, unless objected to by the Legislature, and a municipality’s failure to implement the shared service recommendation could result in a loss of State aid equal to LUARCC’s estimated cost savings for implementing the recommendation." Two things: LUARCC is an already existing commission that can make these recommendations on their own without any efforts regarding sharing services/consolidation by the affected towns on their own. 2. If that commission suggests consolidation and the towns refuse, there's no penalty. However, if shared services (which we're already pursuing) are suggested and the towns fail to implement, ten penalties apply. Am I reading this incorrectly?
bgporter October 04, 2012 at 05:42 PM
(note: text quoted above is from the 'statement' -- http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/2012/Bills/S0500/2_S1.HTM)
haljalikea kick October 08, 2012 at 12:11 AM
Great link- thanks, really important we get real answers and attend the next meeting .


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