Cherry Hill/Merchantville merger study commission advances

TRENTON – A possible municipal merger gained some traction today.

The Local Finance Board of the Department of Community Affairs approved an application to form a commission to study a possible merger between Merchantville and Cherry Hill.

The idea to study the effects of consolidating the two towns was advanced by  a grassroots group,  Merchantville Connecting for the Future.

The commission will have 10 members, five from each municipality.

The two Camden County municipalities – which once made up one municipality called Delaware Township until Merchantville was incorporated in 1874 – have discussed entering into what supporters from Merchantville called a “reunion” study for years.

Cherry Hill, the state’s 14th largest municipality by population, has more than 71,000 residents, according to 2010 census data, whereas Merchantville has about 3,800 residents.

The Princetons will have yet another referendum on consolidating in November. Unsuccessful referendums on the same matter have taken place before.

Dan Keashen, chief of staff to Cherry Hill Mayor Bernie Platt, said the township supports a consolidation study, saying the possibility of a merger would help “roll back a lot of the municipal madness and reduce redundancy.”

The study, which could cost between $35,000 and $50,000 if done by a consultant – would look at various financial components of both towns to determine the cost-effectiveness of combining services. The study would look at tax rates, sewer rates, and police departments, among other things.

Keashen hopes an academic institution would be willing to study the issue pro-bono. There has been some interest from the Rand Institute at Rutgers University in Camden.

Merchantville elected officials were not immediately available for comment.

Gina Genovese, executive director of Courage to Connect, a non-profit group advocating for town consolidation, described the Merchantville-Cherry Hill commission study as “a good first step.”

Compared to previous cases in which mergers were explored, Genovese said this particular one is a breakthrough.

“It’s the first time citizens have initiated consolidation in New Jersey,” Genovese said in a phone interview. “That’s what needs to happen to restructure our state.”

  Cherry Hill/Merchantville merger study commission advances