April 23, 2006

Caught: Devine $limes Taxpayers (Again)

As reported in the Progress
Wednesday, April 19, 2006 1:40 PM EDT

District overpays for advertisement
By Kitty Wilder, Managing Editor
RAHWAY, NJ - The Rahway school district paid nearly double what it was required to advertise its 2006-07 school budget in a local newspaper in March.

The district paid Devine Media Enterprises Inc., publisher of the News Record, $730.02 to legally advertise the budget March 23. According to state law, and based on circulation numbers provided by publisher James Devine, the advertisement should have cost $432.64.
Fees for public notice advertisements are calculated according to state law. Rates determined by the law ensure that municipal, county and school governing bodies are protected when providing information to the public.

Public notice advertising provides citizens with information before a governing body votes on a matter. The advertisements are meant to provide citizens with time to research and question an action before it is taken.

Rates for public notice advertisements are calculated based on a newspaper’s paid circulation, a number figured annually by all newspapers.

Devine said Tuesday his weekly newspaper’s paid circulation was approximately 13,000 last year.

Based on that circulation and according to the law, Devine should have charged the district $0.35 per line of type for advertising the budget.

Calculations show Devine charged $0.59 per line — a rate that is used by newspapers with a circulation of 100,000.

The width of a line is determined by law. Lines are measured by a unit called a pica — equal to one-sixth of an inch — and must be 8 picas wide.

Devine declined to comment on the cost of the budget notice, saying he hadn’t seen the advertisement. He also declined to examine the advertisement in order to determine if there was a discrepancy in the rates.

Devine refused to comment on whether he considered himself familiar with the law.

School Business Administrator Albert DiGiorgio was unaware of any disparity in advertising costs. He said the Rahway school district has used the News Record for public notices for at least the 20 years he has worked in the district.

The district uses Devine’s newspaper because state law says a district must use a newspaper published in the municipality, DiGiorgio said.

According to the New Jersey Press Association, the law states that school budget information must be published “in at least one newspaper published in the district.”

DiGiorgio said last week he had questioned the News Record’s rates after the Rahway City Council confirmed in 2004 that Devine had been overcharging the city for public notice advertisements. But he again said he was bound by the law.

“I’d rather not use it (the News Record), but I have no choice,” DiGiorgio said, adding Tuesday that he planned to discuss the charges with the school district’s attorney and with Devine.

The Rahway City Council hasn’t published public notices in the News Record since 2004, when the council determined Devine Media had overcharged the municipality.

Managing Editor Kitty Wilder can be reached at 908-686-7700, ext. 127, or theprogress@thelocalsource.com.

Note: Devine Media was paid at least $17,620.34 by the County of Union in 2005.