HAMILTON TOWNSHIP — In the wake of a criminal investigation by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office into the Mizpah Volunteer Fire Company, the Township Committee decided Tuesday to launch its own investigation into the financial operations and physical inventory of the company.
The committee was advised by the Prosecutor’s Office of a criminal investigation into financial activities and dealings involving members of the fire company.
“This is an active and ongoing investigation,” prosecutor’s spokeswoman Donna Weaver said when asked for details of the investigation.
The township provides funding for five independent volunteer fire companies, including Mizpah, which provide fire and emergency services to the community.
On the same day that the news of the prosecutor’s criminal investigation broke, the Township Committee held an emergency meeting. Most of the meeting was held in private in executive session to discuss a police/private safety matter.
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About an hour later, the five-member committee reconvened in public and unanimously passed a five-part resolution, in which it decided to:
• Temporarily seize and secure township-owned vehicles, equipment and supplies.
• Cease immediately all funding of the Mizpah fire company, and freeze all financial assets.
• Have police Chief Greg Ciambrone coordinate with other local fire companies and mutual-aid departments to continue to provide fire services to the Mizpah section of the township.
• Direct Township Administrator Arch Liston to coordinate an investigation of the financial operations and physical inventory of the Mizpah company in coordination with the Prosecutor’s Office, the Police Department and with any and all other professional assistance needed
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• Direct Liston to determine the legitimacy and accuracy of the allegations brought forth in coordination with the Prosecutor’s Office, the Police Department and with any and all other professional assistance needed and bring all findings to the committee to make informed decisions on future spending on all fire operations in the township.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, one of the residents expressed concern that the Mizpah firehouse could be shut down for more than a year.
Mayor Art Schenker made it clear that the Prosecutor’s Office is conducting the criminal investigation, but it was the township’s decision to shut down the firehouse.
One of the residents brought up the fact that the Mizpah firehouse is a polling place, and now, it is closed. Most voting in the upcoming election will be done by mail.
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Liston said he is working with the Atlantic County Board of Elections, and Ciambrone is working with the Prosecutor’s Office, to make sure the firehouse is open as a polling place Nov. 3.
Multiple residents brought up a concern about what happens if a fire breaks out in Mizpah while the firehouse is closed.
There will be no interruption in service as the Richland Volunteer Fire Company is only 2 miles away and would receive the second call when Mizpah was active, Ciambrone said.