PATERSON, NJ – For years, the City of Paterson has supplied hot dogs and soda to various community groups hosting National Night Out events as part of its support for the anti-crime initiative.
Not this year.
After canceling its annual Mother’s Day breakfast and Memorial Day Kick-Off celebration because of funding restrictions imposed by the state, the city now has opted not to provide refreshments for National Night Out gatherings.
“It shouldn’t be a big deal, the purpose of National Night Out is not about hot dogs,’’ said City Council President Anthony Davis. “It’s about recognizing your neighbor and being neighborly and stopping the violence.’’
Davis said he was sure community groups would fill the void to provide refreshments.
Last year, Paterson spent about $2,400 on hot dogs and soda for 27 different community groups. Each group got about 200 hot dogs and 100 sodas.
But during the past year, the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services (DLGS) has taken a tough stand on Paterson’s spending practices through its enforcement of an agreement that gave the city $21 million in transition aid in fiscal 2012.
“They told us we couldn’t do it,’’ said Mayor Jeffrey Jones of the hot dogs and soda.
But the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) said the city never actually asked for permission to buy the Night Out refreshments.
“Celebratory food and drinks are generally not to be supported with taxpayer funds unless exception is received from DLGS,’’ said DCA spokeswoman Tammori Petty. “We have received no such request for an exception. The city was actually looking for local businesses to donate for this event.’’
When told of the DCA’s spokeswoman’s comment, Jones responded, “They need to tell us either yes or no and not be going back and forth like this. All of a sudden they’re talking about waivers. I’m tired of this.’’
Councilman Kenneth Morris, chairman of the finance committee, said he believed the state’s spending restrictions should apply to food and drink that city officials were buying for themselves, not for refreshments for a public event.
Morris also said he thought it would be “unconscionable” for the state to deny refreshments for an event like National Night Out.