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Convention Travel Expenses May Put Some of Paterson’s State Aid in Jeopardy

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PATERSON, NJ – The city did not get requisite approvals to send a contingent of municipal officials to the League of Municipalities convention in Atlantic City in November and may lose some state aid as a result, according to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA).

Paterson apparently has been caught in a crackdown by the DCA on municipalities that get transitional aid. All those cities must get prior approval from the state before spending money on travel expenses as one of the conditions of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for getting extra money from Trenton.

“The Division has received less than a handful of requests seeking approval to incur lodging and meal expenses,’’ said Division of Local Government Services Director Thomas Neff in a December 21 letter to Paterson and other New Jersey cities. “We are concerned that municipalities have been incurring lodging and meal expenses without first seeking appropriate written approvals.  We are, therefore, requesting an itemization of all lodging and meal expenses incurred from January 1, 2011 through December 15, 2011, regardless of funding source.’’

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The state plans to withhold state “aid in the amounts that are determined to have been incurred in violation of the MOU’’ said Neff’s letter.

Paterson had not submitted any requests to the state for travel spending, according to DCA spokeswoman Lisa Ryan. But city officials have made no secret that a contingent of more than 20 elected officials and municipal administrators attended the annual convention in Atlantic City.

The potential financial impact of any loss in state funding appears to be minimal in the context of the city’s $230 million budget. Officials estimated the city spent less than $20,000 on the November convention. But exact figures were not available on Tuesday. It’s not clear if Paterson spent money to send any other employees or officials anywhere else in 2011.

The travel expense situation represents the latest in a series of reprimands and rejections that Trenton has directed towards Paterson in the past few months, including a report criticizing the city’s overtime spending, the denial of Paterson’s applications to rehire police officers and recreation workers and the rejection of a severance deal with Police Chief James Wittig.

“It’s sad if that’s the case,’’ said City Council President Anthony Davis, when asked about the state’s plans to hold back some funding over the travel expenses. “We thought we had their approval. They can look at it. They should also look at what people did when they were down there. I didn’t go to sit on my butt, I went to the workshops.’’

“In any business like the business of running the city, ongoing education is not only necessary, but should be required,’’ said City Council Finance Chairman Kenneth Morris. “The League of Municipalities Convention provides that opportunity.’’

In fact, Morris said, Neff himself ran one of the workshops that the councilman attended.

Morris called the state’s threat to withhold funding “short-sighted.’’ The League convention, he said, is annual event attended by representatives of virtually every municipality in the state.

Mayor Jeffrey Jones could not be reached for comment for this story.

Paterson and the other cities receiving transitional aid have until Friday to submit their 2011 travel expense documents to the state.

The following are the MOU’s provisions regarding travel spending:

·         The Municipality shall not expend funds on out-of-State travel or overnight stays within New Jersey, without first submitting a “Travel Approval Form” (Attachment E) to the Director and receiving written approval therefore from the Director.  The Municipality shall explain good cause for the expenditure, which may include, but is not limited to, a need to ensure licensure or certification of statutory employees or essential training for public safety employees.

·         Reimbursement for employee meals (other than as required pursuant to contractual provisions as of the date of this Memorandum) or entertainment is prohibited and Municipal funds cannot be used for receptions for Municipal employees.

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