YOU . letters . Consolidation

The issue of town consolidation has been a part of New Jersey municipal culture for as long as anyone can remember. It has been forty years since the last merger of two municipalities in this State (Vineland Borough and Landis Township in 1954). While there have been at least nine studies of potential consolidation and various calls for studies, there have been no successful consolidations in three decades. In 1972 the State of NJ County and Municipal Governement Study Comission published a 49 page report on Consolidation Prospects and Problems.

The Department of Community affairs is looking at the statutory and other factors which work against such efforts. The Local Unit Alignment, Reorganization and Consolidation Commission" (LUARCC) was established on March 15, 2007. Codified as N.J.S.A. 52:27D-502, the Commission will study and report on the structure and functions of county and municipal government. This effort includes the study of local taxing districts and their statutory basis. It also includes the fiscal relationship between local governments, and the appropriate allocation of service delivery responsibilities from the standpoint of efficiency. LUARCC then will be able only to recommend, not mandate, consolidations. Review their agenda and meeting minutes here:
Merchantville High School closed in 1972. From 1968 to the present it has been the practice of numerous Merchantville Boards of Education to provide academic excellence to residents and their children. This effort has included several attempts to investigate and pursue alternative sending-receiving relationship options for the community. To date none have suceeded.

On May 28, 2010 an anonymous resident placed a "Petition to consider Consolidation with Cherry Hill" online at
The petition states the following: We the citizens of Merchantville, NJ petition our government to evaluate and work toward a real consolidation plan with Cherry Hill, NJ.
The numbers do not lie. Our town is cutting municipal services and yet it must continue to raise taxes to pay for what services remain. Our school is making cuts where it is impossible to cut without affecting program, thereby hurting our kids education and our property values. Our Public Works is running out of usable equipment without a budget to purchase and or repair. It is time for our town to take a sincere look at consolidating with Cherry Hill. There are clear signals from the newspapers that Cherry Hill is considering every option and is a willing partner for a town consolidation with Merchantville. If such a consolidation were to occur, our schools could finally be on solid footing for all teaching years, including High School. Our property values would be protected or even increase. And finally, our taxes could be stabilized or at least our municipal services would be protected or improve.
The petition ends with this statement: By signing this petition you support our goal of requiring Merchantville Borough Council to take the steps necessary to begin a merger with Cherry Hill NJ to save our community. Do some fact checking. Many assertions in the body of this petition are inaccurate.

As of 7/13/10 there were 94 signatures from persons asserting residency in Merchantville. No individual has signed the petition since 6/9/10. Of these 94 signers, 23 have lived in Merchantville 5 or fewer years, 16 have lived here fewer than 10 years, 3 individuals signed the petition twice, 2 signed anonymously and 7 are not listed as property owners and tax payors in NJ tax records.

A few comments and sentiments of those who signed the petition are below.

"This is an option that should be explored!"
"I would think residents enjoy having their own identity and that dissolving the Borough completely is not what the popular opinion would be."
"While I am not, per se, for consolidation, if we need to consolidate, Cherry Hill is a logical and wise choice."
"Consolidation would allow our volunteers to concentrate on promoting our town and identity."
"Our investment in Merchantville over these past 32 years, will evaporate if no action is taken. We cannot afford to wait!"
"It would prevent "back room" agreements and negotiations between politicians and some favored citizens."
"We whole heartedly agee that we should merge with Cherry Hill"
"Our taxes keep going up and our property values are crashing at such low values that we cant even bail ourselves out!Merchantville is in need of a big change for the better!"
"This will solve Merchantville's school problems which will attract and keep families in the town."
"We can no longer afford a school that does not meet the community's needs. Consolidation with Cherry Hill would be a dream come true."
"A sound proposal. Beats going to Pennsauken High School where I had to attend since I lived in Merchantville. Even in the late 70's, PHS was not a good high school."
"I love this town. However, whether it's next year or ten years from now, we are going to be forced by the state or circumstances in general to consolidate."

A Door-to-Door Petition was circulated and submitted to Borough Council on 6/14/10 with 467 signatures. Of those, Mayor North stated several who signed had 4 digit addresses and therefore could not be residents of Merchantville. It was announced at Borough Council on 7/12/10 that the Borough Clerk is verifying signatures for residency. Some residents who signed the petition allege that they were misinformed as to the actual content of the petition and have now rescinded their support. Some residents have stated that no one with a petition ever came to their front door. A copy of this petition with signers is available a Borough Hall.

A facebook group site was started called "Merchantville Study for Consolidation". The information from the page follows.
Description: We are a bipartisan group of concerned neighbors who recognize that Merchantville's finances have reached a tipping point and that we need to start exploring options. We are in favor of a study to evaluate a consolidation with Cherry Hill.
Privacy Type: Closed: Limited public content. Members can see all content.
In other words, this is not an open site offering a place where residents of merchantville can exchange of ideas on the subject of consolidation. This "bipartisan group of concerned neighbors" can pick and choose who can join and participate in the discourse.

Tax Rate Facts: there is information about general and effective municipal tax rates at this website: general / effective tax rate. In 2009 the general tax rate in Merchantville was 5.049 and in Cherry Hill was 5.319. Take a home in both communities with an assessed value of $200,000, multiply that by the general tax rate and, voila, your 2009 taxes!

At the Borough Council meeting on 7/12/10 the following statements were made about consolidation by residents during the public comment portion of the meeting:
I am passionately in favor of the cause about a merger with Cherry Hill.
A consolidation feasibility study in Delaware County, PA cost $42,000.

A feasibility would be based on interest right? Therefore, if there was no interest from Cherry Hill then there would be no need to do a study.
If thetowns merged there would be no police coverage from Cherry Hill.
A Blue Ribbon Commission (to study a merger) would be biased because nobody on Council wants to loose their jobs because of a merger with Cherry Hill.

Does the Council anticipate additional budget cuts?
If we merge and property values go up there will be a reassessment. That equals more taxes.

How would consolidation impact firefighters, paid in Cherry Hill vs volunteer in Merchantville
The level of interest from the petition will trigger a study and they (Council) won't have the choice to be a stoic body doing everything to sabotage the merger.

We have to be sure things arent done behind closed doors, we will be sure to be at every meeting, no more hidden stuff, no more, no more, no more, because you (Council) don't want a merger doesn't mean the town doesn't want a merger.
If the goal is now to pursue a merger then the Council will be out of business and effectively be giving itself a pink slip.
Vehemently oppose, leave Merchantville alone. We're fortunate to have best police department in the state, My friends in Cherry Hill say taxes are sky high and going higher and nobody can sell their home. Do you think Cherry Hill will pick up our leaves or plow our streets?
if we were consolidated we wouldn't have the opportunity to meet like this
A feasibility study by the BOE in 1985 was supposed to cost $100,00, ended up costing $150,000 and by the time the case was over $1.5 million and was still never resolved.
We wouldn't have representation on Cherry Hill's School Board or Council. We're a 1 square mile town.

Statements from Council:
It's Council's responsibility to sit and listen during public comments.
Discussions were authorized but nothing else.
We (Council) need to move slowly and carefully with deliberations.
Nobody is trying to sabotage the merger petition.

Statements from Mayor North:
People need to buy homes with their heads not hearts.
If I've been short with you I am sorry but this needs to be a town issue not just a school issue. In 2009 NJ magazine rated towns and Merchantville moved from 476 to 274 which is 6 points above Cherry Hill.
At the meeting with Cherry Hill it was clear that it was strictly a school driven discussion. Asked if Cherry Hill was interested in taking our students in grades 6-8 if we took their students in grades K-5 we were told "no."
If Cherry Hill is not interested in consolidation there is no reason to do a study. A bipartisan committee of 3-6 people will be appointed to find someone to do a consolidation study if funding comes through from the state. If Cherry Hill agreed to the idea and a study was completed that recommended consolidation the question would need to go on the ballot in both towns. If either town voted down the consolidation question it would end there. This process would take a long time, in other words if you aren't happy now you won't be happy for quite a while.
There will be a Courier Post article coming out on this issue because I was called for a comment.

2010 Council meeting minutes

Do yourself, your neighbor and your town a favor. Read and become informed: