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Residents Express Concerns at Final Consolidation Hearing

After Courage to Re-Connect announced amendments to the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Municipal Consolidation Application, residents voiced concerns about funding, representation.

While attendance was down nearly 50 percent from the on July 10, the third and final hearing last night in the Scotch Plains Town Council Chambers saw an onslaught of questions and concerns about the proposed .

According to the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Law of 2007, three public hearings were mandated before Courage to Re-connect, the organization in favor of consolidating Scotch Plains and Fanwood, could move forward with a consolidation study.

Among residents’ main concerns were questions about funding the $50,000 to $75,000 report, whether the municipalities should be subject to such a new and untested initiative, and the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Municipal Consolidation Application petitioners’ representation–or misrepresentation–of Fanwood residents.

The meeting was led by Gina Genovese, executive director of N.J. Courage to Connect, and Fred Lange, founder of Courage to Re-connect, with Assistant Director of Local Government Services Christopher Vaz mediating the hearing.

“…We have really considered what the public has said the last couple of public hearings, and we would potentially like to amend the application to reflect what people have been sharing,” Genovese said.

Under the Financial & Logistical Support section of the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Municipal Consolidation Application, Genovese said Courage to Re-connect would exclude the following excerpt:

“The Commission plans to seek contributions from the participating municipalities…”

This would allow the group the ability only to seek contributions from “relevant non-profits, philanthropies, foundations, and research centers.”

In the same section, the application states the group is hopeful that Scotch Plains or Fanwood would agree to serve as the fiscal agent for the Study Commission, providing a vehicle for managing the Commission’s finances.

However, the group has amended the application to exclude the following excerpt:

“If that is not possible, CTR-SPF proposes that the Department of Community Affairs (“DCA”) create a special purpose account available for the Study Commission to deposit contributions and charge expenses.”

According to the application, the consolidation study commission would consist of five residents of Scotch Plains and five residents of Fanwood, 10 commissioners in total. Two commissioners from each municipality would be selected by the committee of representative voters, and two commissioners from each municipality would be selected by each municipal governing body.

The group amended the application last night so that these four commissioners from each municipality would jointly select their fifth and last commissioner. The application would previously allow the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Public School District board to appoint these commissioners.

“And I think that that would be pretty reasonable so that, you know, again, everybody could start working together,” said Genovese.

Once the application was amended, the hearing was opened for public discussion.

Several residents expressed concern regarding the cost and funding of the consolidation study.

While Lange said about 80 percent of study is complete based on previous shared services studies, that would still leave funding for the consolidation portions of the study up in the air.

“At this point we don’t know the finances and we don’t know who will help us, but we’re looking into it,” said Lange.

Once formed, the study commission would write a request for proposal to allow outside consulting firms, academic institutions, or other contributors to place bids. According to the amended application, contributions would not come from tax-payers, but rather only an outside institution.

“Maybe we’re using the excuse that money is so tight and we’re going to save money–I don’t know how much money we’re really going to save,” said Grace Alina, from Scotch Plains.

Alina said the municipalities should take a “wait-and-see” approach.

“I want to see what happens to Princeton,” she said. “It’s an experiment. I don’t want to be part of it.”

Several attending Fanwood residents, including Fanwood Councilman Michael Szuch, were concerned that they had yet to see any petitioners from Fanwood attend the public hearings. Szuch called these petitioners a “phantom group.”

“I think that we’re really misrepresenting the citizens here by continually saying that this is a 'representative group,'” he said. “I think the reality here is that it is not a representative group, but that it’s merely the will of some absentee citizens who have merely signed their names to a petition, and have presented it, and it is taking a life of its own without truly representing what I would consider the will of the citizens here.”

Other Fanwood residents said they did not feel represented because they never saw the petitions, nor did they see any postings about Courage to Re-connect's meetings.

Answering Fanwood resident Jason Benedict’s request for a reaction from Lange in regards to the Fanwood petitioners’ no-show, Lange said, “Yes, I was disappointed.” 

The few residents who spoke in favor of the commission study last night said it was important to get all the facts before any decisions were made regarding consolidation.

Dean Leistikow, a resident of Scotch Plains, said, “Once we do the study, then we will have the information we need to make a decision."

"It would be a reasonable thing to go ahead with the study; we can then look at the data and make an informed decision,” he said.

In accordance with the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Law, Vaz will prepare a report summarizing the public hearings and community comments. The report will be presented to the Finance Committee in Trenton on August 8.

Vaz said anyone who wishes to e-mail their comments and concerns can send them to dlgs@dca.state.nj.us with ‘Scotch Plains/Fanwood Consolidation Study’ in the subject line.

FanGuy462 July 17, 2012 at 11:01 AM
Another detailed article on this can be found at http://thealternativepress.com/articles/tensions-on-potential-merger-still-running-high
Mike V July 17, 2012 at 12:13 PM
The third meeting and again no one from Fanwood was for this.
SSM July 17, 2012 at 01:48 PM
Fact: The largest contributor to NJ-C2C (other than Ms. Genovese and her partner) is the Pindaros Foundation, which has no information about itself online but is apparently based out of a residence in Far Hills, NJ. The owner of that residence, which appears to be a 10+ acre estate, is Dr. Pindaros Roy Vagelos- a man with an impressive resume; i.e., former CEO of Merck, etc. Question: Doesn’t it seem odd that NJ-C2C’s largest funder is a person who resides in a municipality with about 900 residents, 350 households, their own police department and town government??? Seems like a contradiction to me, regardless of their need for funds to pursue this altruistic endeavor.
citizen22 July 17, 2012 at 02:51 PM
For whatever reason, this article does not mention one of the more interesting points raised last night by the gentleman from Fanwood. Despite the fact that Courage to Connect's contention is that Mr. Lange initiated this process himself by approaching Ms. Genovese a few years ago at a meeting in a neighboring community, doesn’t it seem more than a “coincidence” (Ms. Genovese’s word) that one of the committee petitioners from Scotch Plains, Jonathan Jaffe, is a co-author of Courage To Connect’s official “Guidebook-The Tools For Municipal Consolidation in New Jersey,” as well as the principal of Jaffe Communications, which is Courage to Connect's PR firm and touts on its website that they have had early successes in municipality consolidation? In my personal opinion, this group was hoping no one would raise this point and it was intentionally withheld for the very reason that residents have been expressing their concern: this is not a grassroots effort in anyway and those mentioned above have aspirations (down the road) of becoming paid/professional lecturers in this emerging area.
Thomas Gordon July 17, 2012 at 05:10 PM
Citizen22 makes a very valid point about Courage to Connect's motivation, especially given the fact these so called petitioners have been absent from the process... or as Mr. Szuch would label them "a phantom group". It certainly seems to me that CTC is in this solely for their own personal gain.
John Christadapolus July 17, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I'm a person who is not publicly involved in the towns. I don't stand up at meetings or volunteer for the more widely publicized town events. I have a few questions for those that are so vehemently opposed to this. Does my service as a Rotarian, Kiwanis or Lion make me ineligible to vote for this? Does being a coach for my children in the local recreation league mean that I'm not giving enough? Is keeping my property maintained to the best of my ability not adequate? I go to my child's class once or twice a year to read to them, it's not very visible so does it count? Who gives anyone the right to say they are more representative of our towns than someone else? Are those who are active and opposed to this merger paying any additional premium on their taxes? If not, why do they consider their vote more important or worthy than mine? I've got news for all the current/former/future/successful/failed politicians and their friends. Just because your name and picture hasn't appeared as volunteer of the month in the local send home, it does not mean that there are hundreds of citizens being good neighbors. From what I've read about this law, this is the reason it was enacted. There are many "phantoms" out here. We don't always have as much time as others, or we may prefer to keep more low-key. I would like to see this process go forward. If the study does not show this as worthy, it won't go to a vote. If it does, then the citizens can decide.
firedup49 July 17, 2012 at 06:49 PM
""Sounds like a great way to save our tax dollars. I am for a merger"". This question is deceiving, anyone would say yes, and 355 did. Would these same people sign a paper that said We will give you a $50.00 rebate without reading it. Probably yes and that would be foolish. These are the people that will complain and say they were cheated because they did not read the fine print. TOO BAD for them. I say buyer beware if it sounds too good, always check and verify before you agree or sign anything. A lesson learned
LongTimeRes July 17, 2012 at 08:19 PM
@JohnC - Wow! Lots of anger here - I don't get it. Vote yes if this saves us significant money and makes sense logistically and logically for the two towns. Vote no otherwise. What does any of the other stuff matter???
John Christadapolus July 17, 2012 at 08:48 PM
To LongTimeRes, Sorry about my rant. I would term it frustration more than anger. As I'm following this story, it seems to me that those opposed to even having a study done are the ones who have more to lose personally. And yes, MOST of those names are either current politicians, former politicians, or failed politicians. I agree with you on voting on the merits of the study. That's my exact point. Let's see a study. The other stuff matters because the other stuff consists of people who do not want a study to be done. The other stuff is the fear-mongering and doom-saying before we even have a study. The other stuff is a few people deciding that the rest of us may not be smart enough to make this decision. This community is everyone's. It's our home. We should have a say in something this momentous. While I'm not very visibly involved, I follow the town doings and I'm talking about a merger study not a shared services study. So yes I would like to vote yes or no based on the merits, it just seems to me that some in our community do not want it to get to a vote.
citizen22 July 17, 2012 at 09:01 PM
@John C - For the record, I am in no way affiliated with or connected to political office. Furthemore, think about what you are saying...of the approximately 100 people at the 2nd meeting in Fanwood and the 30 or so at the 3rd meeting in SP, are you seriously arguing that "MOST" were either current politicians, former politicians, or failed politicians??? Perhaps it is time to become visibly involved, so as to be more aware of what your fellow community members are talking about.
PlainlySee July 17, 2012 at 11:16 PM
While I agree that merging the two towns to save money might be a smart move, an even better move would be a paid fire department (even though yes I know it costs money). The merged towns would cover a large amount of space, and it already takes 20+ minutes for either fire department to arrive depending on when you call and where you live. By that time you might as well kiss your property (and possibly life) goodbye. Not long ago it took over 30 mins. for an ambulance to arrive to rescue a woman trapped in her car with a gash in her head. Perhaps we should consider shared services first and see how that goes.
John Harvey July 17, 2012 at 11:24 PM
I don't believe that a merger would benefit Scotch Plains. So why do it. Take Fanwood off the high school and let them start their own school district. Stop all shared service. The Y should be called the Scotch Plains Y as it resides in Scotch Plains too. Leave Fanwood alone already. This is a waste of time. Just separate already and be done with it. If you want to share services do it with a different town. This marriage is doomed.
PlainlySee July 17, 2012 at 11:29 PM
I completely agree. Just look at all the Christie tax relief for the middle class homeowners in Scotch Plains-Fanwood...oh wait. My taxes have never been higher and a ton of students illegally attend the school district and board bus and train in Fanwood during the school year. Maybe we can save money by hiring some high-quality attendance officers, and not merging the towns.
cj July 18, 2012 at 01:58 AM
Perhaps attendance would be better if the meetings were not held during summer vacation
firedup49 July 18, 2012 at 02:26 AM
Why do I feel there is something these meetings I went to were just going through the motions so these people can proceed ahead. Buyer beware.. Here is the info Application to Create a Municipal Consolidation Study Commission Pursuant to the Local Option Municipal Consolidation Act APPLICANT INFORMATION https://spfreconnect.files.wordpress.com/2012/05/final-revised-application-scotch-plains-and-fanwood-311.pdf
SSM July 18, 2012 at 01:38 PM
Lighten up, John. That's entirely the point. We don't want to be married, we just want to be friends.
SSM July 18, 2012 at 01:42 PM
An excellent point; however, this is what they wanted. It is no accident that their timeline worked out to be that these meeting would take place while most residents are vacationing with their families.
John Christadapolus July 18, 2012 at 03:22 PM
@citizen22. I'm aware of what my fellow citizens are talking about. And let's be clear, while I refer to the political lot as being the majority of those opposed, please do not put words into my mouth. I never said the meetings were COMPRISED of 80% politicians. Of the 100 or so at the meeting, how many spoke and who were they? 80% fell into the category I decribed. In fact, in the audience pictures from the different articles, I also recognize a couple of fire fighters I know. Again, nothing wrong with coming to fight for a cause that may effect you, but there is a personal stake in it for some. I'm aware of people who went to hear what it was about. They were part of the 100. They had an open mind and listened. These "phantoms" are trying to understand the pros and cons of this. I thank you for your service, whatever it is and whatever capacity it may be in. I still stand by my statement that those who have the most to lose personally, be it prestige or power, are the most vocal opponents of allowing this to come to a vote by the citizens.
SSM July 18, 2012 at 03:45 PM
PlainlySee: If you want to push for a paid fire department, go for it. I am sure that the volunteers of our community wouldn't mind some compensation for their time and effort, although they have obviously made the commitment without expecting anything of the sort. With that said, a paid fire department is a LUXURY that most cities and wealthy municipalities can barely afford right now. By the way, check your facts with the borough. Fanwood’s Volunteer FD has never taken anywhere near 20 minutes to respond to a call within our community. I am sure that information is available via a FOIL request with Union County’s dispatch office.
PlainlySee July 20, 2012 at 03:21 AM
SSM: I completely agree. The volunteers in this town are amazing, they just need some compensation. On a side note, getting anywhere in Fanwood shouldn't take 20 minutes (driving or walking). Perhaps the fire departments should merge to better their coverage. Scotch Plains is huge, and it often takes a long time for non-police to arrive (even though volunteers are committed). By the time I was paged it would take me at least 10 mins. to leave my house and even drive to the fire department. You don't have to look as far back as Charlie Brown's to see devastating fires in town. Every week they are posting houses destroyed by fire on this site. Thank God we're not seeing serious injuries due to the delay. I just think this coverage issue is interesting. If you live by Shackamaxon, for example, imagine how long you'd wait for the Scotch Plains ambulance to arrive from Route 22 area. That's insane, especially when Fanwood is closer and Westfield ambulance is just down the block. Every second counts.
bgporter July 20, 2012 at 01:17 PM
@PlainlySee -- if you live by Shack and need fire/ambulance, why wouldn't they dispatch from the station at Southside? I was sure that I've seen a rescue truck going in/out of there while cooling my heels at soccer games. Am I remembering wrong?
PlainlySee July 20, 2012 at 02:10 PM
There's no ambulance at Southside Station, and where that station is located it takes volunteers quite a while to even get there. Shared emergency services with Fanwood might not be such a bad idea to start with first.
Ben Dover July 20, 2012 at 02:45 PM
did you do a study and timed the members at the southside to see how long it takes them to respond? I dont think so so you ar just making up something to write...Merrging the FD's will save how much money?
PlainlySee July 21, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Ben Dover: Forget the fire department study. Did you ever study phonics? If so, I hope it wasn't at SPF schools, otherwise we might consider that merger a failure.

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