SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD, NJ – Several hundred residents turned out for a special meeting called to present progress on the proposed Scotch Plains/Fanwood Police merger that was held at the high school on Monday evening.
Fanwood Mayor Colleen Mahr and Scotch Plains Mayor Kevin Glover moderated the meeting, which included members of both town councils and various support staff and professionals involved in the discussions and who sit on the committee.
Mahr sketched in the history, that a 2009 study had shown that shared services was the quickest way to saving money, and how the discussions had evolved on how to expand services with less cost.
“Both our communities have been hard hit by the economic downturn. People have walked away from their houses, there are property tax delinquencies and food pantries have never been busier,” Mahr said.
A slide show was then presented outlining why the concept of a police merger was being discussed, showing how duplication of services could be eliminated, a combined force would be more efficient and how costs would be decreased.
“No plan has been finalized,” Glover said. “This meeting is just to let the community know where we are in the planning process. This isn’t about politics, it’s about the community and it’s about math.”
Scotch Plains Police Chief Brian Mahoney and Fanwood Police Chief Richard Trigo gave a joint presentation on what a combined force would look like.
“Why are we here? This conversation has been going on for far too long,” Mahoney said. “I’m glad that we can present a proposed plan and move forward.”
The two chiefs then proceeded to present an overview that showed the same or better police coverage than what they have currently for a combined, reduced cost under a structure known as a Joint Meeting.
Under the concept of a Joint Meeting, the current police departments would be effectively dissolved and a new one formed that would be governed by a Joint Meeting comprised of an appointee from Fanwood, and an appointee from Scotch Plains who would in turn select a third member. There would then be an executive director, who would handle all administrative duties, and a chief of police.
The new structure would save an estimated $820,000 in the first year, even after taking into account $210,000 worth of implementation costs.
While there were council members from both communities who were in favor of the new plan, there were also members who were unsure or were very much against the proposed change to a Joint Meeting.
Members of the public were mostly concerned with whether or not it was a foregone conclusion or was public input still being sought.
Mahr assured everyone that the intention of the meeting was merely to present to the public what was being discussed and that there were many details still to be decided. “This is a work in progress and nothing has been finalized,” Mahr said.
Tomorrow: Public comment continues on proposed police merger