ROXBURY, NJ – A panel studying the pros and cons of consolidating local government and education services in Mount Arlington and Roxbury is asking the state for 1-year extension of its work.

So far, the group - officially called the Roxbury/Mt. Arlington Consolidation Commission – has determined that consolidating the municipalities will likely bring savings of at least $3 million per year to taxpayers.

The commission, formed three years ago, is at the end of its authorized lifespan. It met this week and voted unanimously in favor of seeking the deadline extension from the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

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Attending this week’s meeting was Mount Arlington Mayor Michael Stanzilis’ who, like his predecessor, Arthur Ondish, opposes consolidation. Some on the commission took issue with the mayor’s portrayal of a consolidation as being a “merger.”

“You understand the difference between a merger and a consolidation, right?” asked Commissioner Fran Day. “And yet you portray it as merger … I got your campaign stuff. I think you’re doing a disservice to the residents by saying ‘It’s a merger, It’s a merger.’”

Stanzilis said it was a matter of “semantics.”

Roxbury Councilman Robert DeFillippo, a member of the commission, said he – like Stanzilis – didn’t really see much difference between a merger and a consolidation. “The distinction you just made was Mount Arlington keeps its identity,” he said. “But the truth is, Mount Arlington becomes a community within the town of Roxbury.”

Others on the commission said the panel will likely be recommending a dissolution of both municipalities and the creation of a new one – possibly with a new name - that will include Mount Arlington, Port Morris, Kenvil, Succasunna, Lower Berkshire Valley, Landing and Ledgewood as communities.

More Time Needed

In a letter it will send to DCA Director Timothy Cunningham, the commission cites “obstacles” that have delayed its work including “the DCA prior management not participating” in its efforts for more than nine months.

It also pointed to “a lack of cooperation in providing documents to the commission, ultimately requiring OPRA (state Open Public Records Act) requests to get the information.

“Although we ultimately secured the data we needed, the deliberate delays of document discovery have extended our period to complete the study,” says the letter. “It should be noted that we have identified over three to four+ million in possible annual Consolidation savings for the combined township that will be detailed in our final study results.”

A final report cannot be finished until some loose ends are tied, including the ongoing Roxbury property revaluation is finished, said commission Chairman Craig Heard. Once the commission’s recommendation report is finished, the state gets three months to conduct a review before the proposal is brought before voters in both towns.

If voters approve the plan, a state “task force” will “facilitate” the consolidation.