Fire officials, boro at odds over recycling funds’ use


The Spotswood Fire Department's 1921 Model T antique fire truck is at the center of a dispute involving funds for the vehicle's upkeep. The Spotswood Fire Department’s 1921 Model T antique fire truck is at the center of a dispute involving funds for the vehicle’s upkeep. SPOTSWOOD — For more than 30 years, the borough’s fire department has run a metal recycling program that it considered useful for residents as well as for the department.

Residents would dispose of metal trash such as swing sets or aluminum chairs at no cost to them, and the fire department would pick it up and sell it as scrap metal. The department used the proceeds to support the recycling program, as well as to restore and preserve its 1921 Model T antique fire truck.

However, according to borough officials, the money from the program should have been going to the municipal budget, and are no longer channeling it to a dedicated account for the fire department. This change resulted in a protest from members of the fire department, many of whom attended last week’s Borough Council meeting to show their concern.

Mayor Thomas Barlow said the process used by the fire department for collecting revenue through this program did not conform to state law. He said the fire department was using the borough’s tax identification number to collect the money. The borough’s legal and financial professionals told Barlow that the separate account was not legal, and said the money must be put into the borough’s general fund, the mayor said.

“The DCA [state Department of Community Affairs] said it’s a borough revenue source,” Barlow said of the proceeds. He said the department was using the money from the scrap metal sales to keep up the antique fire truck, as well as to purchase uniforms and fund dinners. He also noted that the metal was picked up in borough-owned vehicles.

“There was a separate account in effect for 30 years, and it was in our tax identification number,” Barlow said. “But that money can’t go into a separate account, it must go into the general fund.”

Assistant Fire Chief Nick Poliseno said that shortly after Barlow was elected mayor last year a meeting was arranged with fire officials to discuss the money the recycling team had collected. When Barlow was informed the total was $72,000, he inquired about the tax identification number used. Soon after, the funds were placed into the borough’s own budget with the mayor’s approval.

“You cannot direct recycling money to an entity for something other than recycling,” Barlow said. “It was a non-issue because you can’t do that. I’ve tried explaining that to them for the last 11 months, and I explained it to them again [last week].”

Poliseno said this week that the department would seek legal counsel to verify the mayor’s assertion, and to see if some kind of contract can be created between the borough and department. He said a meeting would be held next week to discuss the department’s options.

The recycling program, he said, will remain in place for now.

In the meantime, Barlow said the separate account is closed, and the money remains in the general fund.

“No one said [the dedicated account] is allowed,” he said. “I thought that would end the discussion. We are not trying to hurt them or do anything against them.”

Barlow said the money collected was used for other fire department endeavors such as uniforms and dinners because it was in excess of what was needed for the upkeep of the antique fire truck.

Poliseno said the program provided the monetary support for the 1921 fire truck, as well as many community functions, such as sponsoring a Spotswood Little League team; and taking Santa around town to see all borough children and going to local hospitals to distribute gifts to children on Christmas Eve.

“This is just a few items that this money fully supported and can possibly end if an agreement can’t be made,” Poliseno said. “The last thing the fire department would want to do is end this 30-year-plus free service that our residents rely on.”

As for the fire truck, he said it is unclear whether the borough would make repairs when needed in the future.

“This vehicle is the gem of the fire department and has an incredible history to the borough of Spotswood and the volunteers who put in the hundreds of hours to keep this antique in pristine condition,” Poliseno said.

Councilwoman Marge Drozd, however, agreed with Barlow that the borough has to abide by the law. She noted that the account was set up many years ago when the laws were different.

“It had our tax I.D., so we have to monitor it,” she said.