By ERIK SOKOLOWSKI
An Assembly measure, sponsored by Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, is heading to Gov. Christie’s desk. If signed, it would give the municipalities of Cherry Hill and Merchantville further opportunities to discuss a possible merger.
The measure had already passed the state Senate in February.
The bill permits a combination of voter petitions and applications by municipal governing bodies to begin seeking state approval for consolidation.
The bill is an attempt to fix the snare encountered by Cherry Hill and Merchantville last year. The problem arose when Merchantville used voter petitions, and Cherry Hill a resolution from council, in submitting the study, which was denied by the state. Until this measure is signed, parties need to use identical ways of proposing the study.
“The Assembly and the Senate both made decisions rooted in common sense and have allowed municipalities to clear another roadblock when it comes to consolidation,” Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt said. “Towns like Cherry Hill can now proceed to explore the reduction of redundant government services and stop the municipal madness that has produced 566 separate municipalities and more than 600 school districts.”
Merchantville is about six-tenths of a square-mile, has a population of 3,800, and about 1,300 households.
The idea of a merger was brought up by a Merchantville citizens group who brought a petition to the June 14, 2010 council meeting with 467 signatures, all supporting a merger. In a letter to Merchantville residents, Merchantville Mayor Frank North said the petition expressed citizen worries over the future of the borough’s economy, the elementary school cutbacks from the state, and the sending/receiving agreement with the Pennsauken Public School District and its high school.
If the two merge, Merchantville children could attend Cherry Hill schools.
“One of the reasons that property taxes in this state are at such a high level is that we have towns that are less than a square mile that are facilitating a full range of government services for a small number of people,” Platt said. “Consolidation, ostensibly, will allow us to create better economies of scale and to facilitate those same services at a lower cost that will directly benefit the taxpayers of this state.”