Caught short: New Jersey capital runs out of toilet roll

Dispute between mayor and the council jeopardises supplies of tissue and paper cups

Los Angeles

They call it "the Garden State", but things aren't exactly rosy for the citizens of New Jersey, whose dysfunctional capital city is on the verge of running out of toilet paper.

A dispute between the mayor and council means that tissue-based products have not been delivered to Trenton's civic buildings for months. Supplies are so stretched that even City Hall will be caught short by Friday.

The "toilet paper crisis" began in November when council members refused to sign off on a contract to buy a year's worth of new paper products, calling it a misuse of taxpayer money.

Mayor Tony Mack has spent the ensuing four months attempting to cajole them into reconsidering the $42,573 (£27,070) purchase. But he has yet to gain approval for a new deal, despite the council already setting aside necessary funds to finance it.

This week, the shortage reached crisis point as the city's police stations, fire departments, and senior citizens centres began to run out of everything from toilet roll to paper cups and towels. Employees were forced to bring their own supplies to work.

"It's beyond dysfunctional," complained George Dzurkoc, of the Policemen's Benevolent Association. He said yesterday the men's lavatories at the city's police HQ had run out of paper. "My God. Basic necessities. What are we going to have to do, start rationing?"

Surreal scenes, meanwhile, greeted visitors to City Hall, where the council president, Kathy McBride, was pictured in an empty basement store-room next to a half-empty box of toilet paper and a box of paper towels. She said they represented the building's last available supplies. "I'm embarrassed," she said. "I feel that we are doing an injustice to the residents of the city and its employees."

The dispute between Ms McBride's council and Mayor Mack is petty, even by the standards of civic politics. At its centre is a $4,000 provision in the original proposed supply contract for a year's worth of paper cups.

Council members, who have had numerous fallings-out with Mr Mack since his election in 2010, claimed it was too expensive. But when the mayor removed the cups from the contract, they still refused to sign the deal, claiming it wasn't properly put out to tender.

Three debates have ended in stalemate. The council, which spends $180 million each fiscal year, has demanded Mr Mack does more to source paper from a local supplier. It also wants him to try harder to prevent city employees from stealing loo roll.

All of which is a boon to late-night comedians, who have already been making unkind jokes about both New Jersey's most famous residents – the cast of Jersey Shore, who seem to exist largely on a diet of protein shakes, junk food and alcohol – and the bowel movements of its Governor, Chris Christie.

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