Love Will Tear Us Apart? The Case for and Against a Pequannock-Riverdale Merger

English: Morris County (New Jersey) in 1853 It...
English: Morris County (New Jersey) in 1853 Italiano: La Contea di Morris (New Jersey) nel 1853 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
By Christopher Lotito

What's the difference between Riverdale and Pequannock, NJ?  About 80 years behind or 5 years ahead, depending on economic factors and the information to be provided by Courage to Connect.  That's how soon municipal consolidation could occur.

On Wednesday September 19th at 7:30pm, Courage to Connect will give a presentation at the Pequannock Township Municipal Building discussing the potential merits and the process of municipal mergers.

In a municipal merger, two townships become one legally and share a government, tax base, and other costs, trappings, and benefits of municipal government.  In Pequannock, a municipal merger looks a lot like the adjacent communities of Lincoln Park and Riverdale coming home to roost.  Less than a century ago, these two municipalities were the last to split from Pequannock Township, following in the footsteps of nearly a dozen other local governments, and in the time since both have maintained fairly modest populations and declined to create local high schools.

The benefits of a merger are the reduction of redundant services: Riverdale and Lincoln Park have declined to build high schools because their population sizes have not demanded.  Further, in order to provide the whole of Riverdale with police coverage, Pequannock would need to put just two additional squad-cars on the road.  This would mean a reduction in cost for Riverdale's budget which could eliminate facilities, vehicles, support staff, hardware, and dispatchers, and Pequannock would benefit from the additional tax base provided by Riverdale, bearing in mind that the cost per officer on the road would be reduced further via economy of scale.  -- This discussion does not take into account the jobs in the community LOST by such a merger, but the subject bears some consideration.

On the other side of the coin, opponents of  municipal mergers cite concerns about the erosion of home rule, the disruption of balanced tax bases in fully developed communities, the potential acquisition of a merged town's liabilities, costs, upgrades, and more.  In the case of Lincoln Park, Pequannock would adopt a host more flooding issues to address, which is great for the residents effected, but a tough nut to crack for even the experts at this time.  In the case of Riverdale, Pequannock gains a cadre of large commercial tax-payers, but will this economic benefit exceed the costs of increased policing and schooling?  More, what percentage of Riverdale's often hilly and winding roads are sewered or need to be in the next 20 years?

If a tree falls in Riverdale, does Pequannock have to clear it and who pays for the gas in the chainsaw?

The bottom line is that the bottom line has yet to be drawn on this equation: while Riverdale has remained resistant to shared police services in the past, questions of a municipal merger have to be considered in full with a robust understanding of not just the economic issues at play, but also practical questions regarding the future format of a joint government, the possibility of village or neighborhood legal statuses for geographic regions, and many others.

All municipalities share one thing in common, they're used cars as far as an investment is concerned.  Some are old and reliable, some are leaking oil, or have uncompleted projects and assessed taxes which remain uncollected.  Weighing these factors is difficult enough when they can all be accounted for, but sometimes it can be difficult to even obtain all the information needed to make an informed decision.

It's hard not to proclaim an opinion when home rule seems at stake in the discussion of municipal mergers: something former Republican council candidate and current Pequannock Board of Education representative Ken Hardaker demonstrated in Sunday's Suburban Trends when he stated, "Consolidation of local governments is not the answer, but a death knell, and will lead to the loss of real public input in governance and our liberty."

The best recommendation of this author regarding an opinion on this issue is to form one, by attending the Courage to Connect consolidation presentation this Wednesday.  The presentation itself is not a step towards consolidation but towards becoming more informed about an important issue and the first of many steps in considering all options to take control of local tax rates in an extremely challenging economic environment.

Christopher Lotito is a member of the Pequannock Historic District, Open Space, and Flood Control Advisory Commissions as well as the author of  "Torrent," a book about flooding in the region.  Lotito's personal mission is to reduce new taxes, drastically reduce flooding, and preserve more green spaces for our children.  Christopher Lotito Profile

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