Allentown
54° F
Overcast
Overcast

N.J. town picks familiar figure as new chief financial officer

By Len Righi, WFMZ.com Reporter
Published On: Dec 17 2013 09:42:11 PM CST
Updated On: Dec 18 2013 05:12:50 AM CST
Robert J. Merlo is sworn in as Phillipsburg's new chief finance officer, wife holds Bible


PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. -

A town in Warren County, N.J., has turned to a familiar figure to guide its financial future. 

Robert J. Merlo was appointed Tuesday night as Phillipsburg's chief financial officer.

Merlo has been acting financial officer since January.

After the unanimous vote, council vice president, Todd Tersigni, said Merlo "has worked hard to get to this point. I know he will be a good chief financial officer. He has big shoes to fill."

Tersigni was alluding to the late Joseph Hriczak, who held the chief financial officer's job for more than three decades before his sudden death in January 2012 at the age of 56.

After the meeting, Merlo, 49, spoke to WFMZ.com, saying he has worked for the town for 26 years and has served as assistant municipal treasurer. He called Hriczak "an excellent mentor."

Merlo said his immediate priorities are working on the new budget, which he will introduce in February, and managing retroactive pay increases due 38 sanitation and public works employees who had been without a contract since the beginning of the year. A new agreement was ratified by council in November.

Merlo said he will oversee one person in Phillipsburg's finance department and three employees in the tax collection department.

Merlo's salary will likely be set by council in January, according to Mayor Harry Wyant.

The mayor said no other candidates were considered for the job.

In other business, council very reluctantly refunded $11,168.13 in taxes to the Norton Partnership which operated the now-defunct Norton Oil company.

Earlier this month, Warren County officials reported receiving more than 235 complaints about Norton since late November. Customers said the family-owned company took their money but reneged on its promise to deliver heating oil when it folded.

When a town resident asked council to defer the payment to Norton, he was told council tried to do just that.

However, Mayor Wyant said a judge sent a letter to council late last week saying Phillipsburg would be held in contempt if the money was not refunded. "We did our best," Wyant added.

Town solicitor said Norton filed for the refund in September and closed up shop in November.

Police Chief James Faulborn said Phillipsburg has received a $4,400 grant from the state Department of Transportation to pay for DUI patrols during the holidays.

Mayor Wyant said people should either "choose a designated driver or just don't drink. ... We want to remind the public, 'We'll be out there.' "