BARNEGAT – The use of township open space funds to pay for football uniforms was not a permissible use of taxpayer money, according to township attorney Christopher Connors.
When confronted by concerned resident Jake Taylor at last week’s township committee meeting, Senator Connors admitted that it was wrong for the township to use open space funds to reimburse the Barnegat Youth Football & Cheerleading organization for uniform purchases, but he maintains that the mayor and township committee had no way of knowing about the expenditure, and thus cannot be held responsible for it.
The state senator claimed that the expense never appeared as a line item in a bill list, nor was there a resolution passed by the governing body explicitly authorizing the transfer out of the open space fund.
The open space fund is funded by a 1 cent tax per $100 of assessed value on township properties, established by an ordinance previously approved by Barnegat voters. Money from the fund can only be used on very specific activities, acquiring and maintaining open space and preservation of historic properties.
At issue was a $20,000 check that paid to the Barnegat Youth Football Association, not a little league as claimed by township officials, which was drawn on the open space fund. Mr. Connors claimed that the little league incurred expenses in performing maintenance to one of the township’s fields. “It was intended to reimburse the organization that made the repair on behalf of the town,” he said. The little league reportedly made repairs to the field, exhausting money available to purchase uniforms.
“If the town had repaired the field, it would have been a legitimate expense out of the open space fund,” Connors said.
But because the maintenance costs were borne by a private organization, and not the township, the open space money is off-limits under state law. Mr. Taylor claimed that the little league’s tax exempt status was revoked by the IRS, but Mr. Connors said this is a moot point, as whether or not the organization is tax exempt it still would not be legal for the township to remit money to the group.
“It should have never come out of the open space fund to begin with,” asserted Connors. He claimed that the money was transferred back to the general fund, and that after informing the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, the township CFO put mechanisms in place to prevent an incident such as this from occurring in the future.
Nobody Knows Who Cut The $20,000 Check
Despite the township purportedly taking action to prevent this from happening again, the identity of the person who authorized the payment is still a mystery to both Connors and members of the township committee. Somebody gave approval for the $20,000 check to be written, but nobody at the meeting knew who. Connors asserted that there was no evidence to suggest that the committee knew anything with regard to the expenditure.
Other Barnegat Open Space Fund Expenditures Questioned
Mr. Taylor raised additional questions during the meeting surrounding the use of the township’s open space fund to pay for line items not related to open space. Taylor alleged that he has records that show the open space fund was being used for trash collection, light rentals, and other line items that he believes are not permissible.
“This is concerning, this is something I would like answers to,” responded Mayor Novak upon hearing Taylor’s allegations.
“Somebody’s being fleeced, me a taxpayer,” Taylor claimed. Mayor Novak pledged that he and other township officials will meet with Mr. Taylor and take a closer look at the open space fund’s administration.
“This is important and I think Jake is entitled to a response,” Novak said. “Honestly I think they’re fair questions and I’d like to see the answers.” At the time of this incident (in 2014), Mayor Novak was not elected to the township committee.