It has been years since local officials first began discussing a shared-service agreement to merge Scotch Plains and Fanwood . Now, Scotch Plains officials are speaking out in favor of moving ahead with a plan to unite the two police departments.
In a statement written to Patch, Deputy Mayor Mary DePaola and Councilman Bo Vastine expressed their support for moving forward with merger talks, noting that there are two options for merging police forces — a "joint meeting" or a contractual shared-service agreement.
“At this point, we believe either choice gets us to where we want to be — a Police Department that protects and serves both communities efficiently, ending redundancy, and saves the taxpayers money,” the two said. “Any other position that prevents us from reaching the ultimate goal of merging should be marginalized.”
The joint-meeting option would create another level of government, consisting of one governing representative from Scotch Plains, one from Fanwood, and one neutral, or “tie breaking”, representative approved by both towns. This governing body would control the financing, contracting, and operations of the police force. In the event that a joint meeting is established, Scotch Plains would pay for 75 percent of the police department’s expenses, with Fanwood picking up the remaining 25 percent of the cost.
The shared-service agreement would allow Scotch Plains to absorb the Fanwood Police Department, with Fanwood paying Scotch Plains for the police services it uses. The Division of Local Government Services in the NJ Department of Community Affairs recently informed local governments that utilizing a contractual shared-service agreement would be the best option for a merger of the Scotch Plains and Fanwood police forces.
Mayor Nancy Malool, who was unaware that Vastine and DePaola had released a statement, expressed that while she feels she is “on the same page” as her colleagues, she disagrees that a joint meeting should even be considered as a method of merger.
“While I am eager to work to find a compromise, I am in not in favor of a joint meeting,” Malool said. “It creates an unnecessary extra layer of government with more administrative costs… I don’t believe the joint meeting provides Scotch Plains residents with adequate representation, yet it requires that their tax dollars fund three quarters of the budget.”
Deputy Mayor Mary DePaola stated that, while there is no timeline for reaching an agreement, the public should know more within a few weeks.
“The next steps have to be taken in executive session and in talks with Fanwood,” DePaola said. “Now is the perfect time to merge police forces because of the current size of each department. Although neither police force is understaffed, we have had a few Officers from each town retire in the past year. If we were to merge now, we would have an optimal number of Officers to patrol each town.”
Malool also noted that while neighboring municipalities have engaged in a joint meeting of fire departments and sewer authorities, it has never been done for Police Departments.
“I don’t want to [create a joint meeting] just for the sake of doing it first,” Malool said. “Yes, Fanwood would have to give up some authority, but a shared services agreement just makes more sense.”
“We are facing a lot of pressure from both sides on this issue,” DePaola added. “It is time for us to commit.”
Fanwood Mayor, Colleen Mahr and the Fanwood Council have interest in moving forward with a merger.However, Mayor Mahr could not be reached for comment at this time.
In recent , Mayor Nancy Malool emphasized that merging police departments or even consolidating Scotch Plains and Fanwood completely would not still not deliver the huge savings residents desire.
“I think it is critical to point out, though, that even if we were able to cut the municipal portion of our residents’ taxes in half, that would save the average taxpayer (who pays $10,000 per year in property taxes) about $900 per year,” Malool said. “I will, however, continue to pursue both options because our residents expect and deserve it.”