There's nothing easy about turning down money. Not many of us do. And if you know you can do something important and valuable with that cash, it's even harder.
So it might seem surprising that some southern New Jersey towns are turning down federal money that would let them hire additional police officers.
This summer, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded more than $3.2 million in grants to four municipalities in our area: Atlantic City, Hamilton Township, Bridgeton and Wildwood. The grants pay the salaries of new police officers for three years.
But Bridgeton and Hamilton Township turned down the grant money. Officials said they just couldn't commit their towns to the future expenses that come with the money. The grants, part of the Community Oriented Policing Services program, require that any new officers hired be kept on the municipal payroll for at least one additional year after the grants run out.
Not an unreasonable requirement. This is seed money, after all, intended to help towns permanently increase staffing or fill openings in their police departments.
And for towns that are trying to do just that, it's a good deal. Municipalities that were planning on hiring more police officers anyway get the first three years of salary paid for by the federal government. That's the situation in Wildwood, where officials hope to use the money to fill existing police department vacancies that they have already budgeted for.
But just because that help is available, it doesn't mean other towns should take on future expenses that they don't think they can handle.
Most area municipalities have wrestled with police staffing issues as budgets have gotten tighter and tighter. And it's probably safe to say that there isn't an elected official in the state who wouldn't love to see more local cops on patrol.
We say we want our leaders to make tough decisions, and one of the toughest has to be deciding how to balance public-safety requirements with the responsibility officials have to safeguard their community's finances.
Hamilton Township Mayor Roger Silva put the decision about turning down the grants this way: "If you take them, it keeps building your budget and, in the end, it's going to cost you. ... There is no free money. It all comes with a price."
Federal money is not free, of course. One way or another, it all comes from the pockets of taxpayers. Still, it is very easy to say yes when grant money is available.
But sometimes, saying no is the right answer.