ROXBURY, NJ – The state should not grant a deadline extension to a panel studying whether consolidating Roxbury and Mount Arlington would bring tax savings, said the Roxbury Mayor and Council this week.
The council approved a resolution opposing the Roxbury/Mt. Arlington Consolidation Study Commission’s effort to gain the extension. The only member of the council to vote against the resolution was Roxbury Councilman Dan Kline, the panel’s sole Democrat.
Recently, the study commission said consolidating the two municipalities would yield almost $12 million per year in cost savings and cut about $1,000 per year from the tax bill of the average Roxbury property owner.
However, it also found that current state law – which requires that Mount Arlington’s tax rate be “equalized” with Roxbury’s during a consolidation – would quash any initial tax savings for Mount Arlington taxpayers.
The commission is currently waiting to see if the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) or another state entity can come up with a fair way to resolve the equalization problem.
A company hired by the commission found that the average Mount Arlington property owner would save about $1,200 per year (15 percent) if the consolidation took place without the tax rate equalization being imposed.
Pulling the Plug
A consolidation of the towns would have to be approved by voters. The commission said it would not place the consolidation question on the election ballot if its study did not predict tax savings for both municipalities.
In adopting the resolution opposing the commission’s request for an extension, the Roxbury council asserted the panel is attempting to “circumvent” the tax equalization law.
As they did at a July 25 meeting of the consolidation commission, Mount Arlington residents and officials spoke out, at this week’s Roxbury council meeting, against allowing the commission to continue its work.
Mount Arlington Mayor Michael Stanzilis told the Roxbury council that its counterparts in his town recently voted unanimously against the commission’s effort. Neither municipality has control over whether the commission gets the deadline extension, but their resolutions are being sent to the DCA, which does.
“A lot of Mount Arlington residents are very concerned about this," Stanzilis told the Roxbury council. “My personal opinion, of course, is this is not a good thing for Mount Arlington. I also feel that the study itself has some serious concerns and questions.”
Will of the People
Mount Arlington people at the meeting applauded Stanzilis’ comments. But Roxbury resident Ralph Nappi – who attends almost every Roxbury council meeting and acts as an advocate for senior citizens in the township – angrily questioned both Stanzilis and the Roxbury council members over their opposition to the commission’s efforts.
Nappi, who was one of the people involved in getting the commission started about five years ago, accused Stanzilis of ratcheting up his constituents ire by spreading falsehoods.
“Let it all shake out,” Nappi urged. “It might be worth it for you. Why are you now upsetting the residents of both townships when there might be a savings in dollars and cents? Let it go through. Let’s see what happens.”
Also criticizing the effort to block the commission were commission members, and Roxbury residents, Fran Day and Laurel Whitney.
Day said the commission needs the extension largely because its work was delayed due to resistance from Mount Arlington when it came to getting information.
“I really would encourage you to just let the study go through to the end,” she said. “At the end, if the state is able to fix things, great. If not, fine. Then we won’t go through with it. If it doesn’t benefit both towns it won’t go through from the commission’s standpoint and even if the commission approves it, the voters will ultimately decide.”
Day said the towns’ attempts to block the commission’s extension request amounted to usurping the will of the people.
“What you’re saying is, ‘I don’t care about the voters or letting … the voters actually make a decision,” she asserted. “I would strongly encourage all of you to remember that taking away the people’s right to vote isn’t really America.”
Republicans in Name Only?
Roxbury Councilman Jim Rilee countered that argument, noting that council members are elected and entrusted by the voters to do what they believe is best for their constituents.
Whitney, a Republican, chided the GOP members of the Roxbury council, contending they should be in favor of any effort that might yield tax cuts.
“You’re supposed to be interested in saving taxes and in smaller government,” said the Succasunna resident. “Instead, you are interested in keeping your own little security and positions. I’m very disappointed, as a fellow Republican, that you won’t let this play out … Why are you sacrificing your reputation, your conservative values?”
Roxbury Mayor Bob DeFillippo, who also is a member of the consolidation commission, said he and department heads in Roxbury government pored over the commission’s work and found it to be questionable.
“We’ve done some analysis on the numbers,” DeFillippo said. Anybody who had the opportunity to view the actual study, (found that) a lot of it is very vague.”
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