Bernards Township and Far Hills Borough have had a longstanding agreement in which Bernards has picked up 85 percent of the cost of maintaining and improving Douglas Road and a portion of Mine Brook Road — with the border between the two towns running smack down the middle of both roads — and now Bernards Township's governing body is insisting the borough take on a greater cost share.
In fact, the Bernards Township Committee voted this week to send a letter to Far Hills officials requesting that the borough start paying 50 percent of such expenses as plowing, patching and repaving within 60 days. Otherwise, Bernards will only take care of its side of the street, according to a directive approved by the committee.
"To me, it's an unacceptable situation," Bernards Deputy Mayor John Carpenter said at Tuesday's meeting. "Our neighboring town is the third wealthiest town in the state of New Jersey," he said of Far Hills.
Bernards Township Administrator Bruce McArthur said that the previous contract apportioning cost share of the two roads expired on Dec. 31. Representatives of the two towns met to discuss a new agreement, he said, and the township asked that Far Hills start paying 50 percent of the cost of snow and ice removal, he said.
On Jan. 29, McArthur said the township received a letter from Far Hills offering to pick up 20 percent of road expenses.
"We just removed about eight inches of ice and snow," McArthur said.
He calculated that Bernards has spent about $81,000 on the shared roads for the past three years, including various maintenance and repair projects, and snow removal. Under the current formula, in place for at least 14 years, Bernards paid $69,000 and Far Hills spent $12,000 during that three-year period, McArthur said.
But "The big nut is obviously the resurfacing [of roads], the administrator told the Township Committee.
McArthur said that repaving Douglas Road, now filled with patch jobs, would cost about $500,000.
Township Engineer Tom Timko said that the portion of Mine Brook Road shared by the two municipalities, which also extends into Bernardsville, is even longer than Douglas Road and would cost an estimated $770,000 to resurface.
Township Committeeman Scott Spitzer that there is a big difference between sharing the costs equally and splitting the bills by 80 and 20 percent. That would mean that Bernards would be picking up an extra $150,000 for the cost of repaving Douglas Road, he said.
"That's a lot to ask our taxpayers to pick up," Spitzer said.
Under the agreement that has existed until now, Bernards also plows Sherwood Farm Road in the borough, and is reimbursed, McArthur said. He said that tiny Far Hills has no public works department and has another shared services snow removal agreement with Bedminster Township.
Carpenter proposed that the letter also inform Far Hills that the township will stop plowing Sherwood Farm Road unless the borough starts paying half.
The two towns have had some kind of agreement for maintaining Douglas and Mine Brook roads since the 1920s, when Far Hills split off from Bernards and became a separate municipality, McArthur said.
McArthur said he believed that Bernards had picked up the entire cost of resurfacing jobs in the 1990s, at a price tag of about $600,000.
Far Hills Mayor said borough will respond after receiving letter
On Wednesday night, Far Hills Borough Paul Vallone said he had not yet received a letter or had been contacted by the township regarding the proposal.
"Once I get their response we will look into it and respond in kind," Vallone said.
But Vallone said he had not received such a negative response at the previous meeting with township officials. He said he had mentioned the figure of 20 percent then and had suggested that the borough might go even higher.
Vallone noted that Far Hills Borough has just over 900 residents, or roughly 250 households, compared with close to 30,000 for Bernards.
"Our budgets are vastly different," he said. With Bernards' greater population, he said he believes far more of its residents use the roads.
Vallone also said that he had told township officials that Far Hills budget would devote all of its one year's state road aid to the cost of repaving Douglas Road, but hadn't expected Bernards to ask for the project to be done this year. By the time Bernards made that proposal, Far Hills already had applied for state road funding for another road project, he said.
However, Vallone said the borough would seek to apply all of its state aid for roads to repaving Douglas Road in 2014 if Bernards will wait a year.
The Far Hills mayor did say that he does not think that Bernards saying it will plow or repave only one lane on each road is the way to negotiate an agreement.
McArthur told the Township Committee on Tuesday that maintaining only Bernards' side of each road would mean that only the south side of Douglas Road and the east side of Mine Brook Road would be repaved or cleared of snow and ice.