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Which Washington Twp. is that for?

N.J. has six same-named towns, Pa. has 4. Mix-ups are inevitably frustrating.

Park Ranger Tom Carlson plants flowers in Washington Township, Gloucester County, one of six similarly named municipalities in N.J. There are four Franklins, and at least a pair of Springfields.
Park Ranger Tom Carlson plants flowers in Washington Township, Gloucester County, one of six similarly named municipalities in N.J. There are four Franklins, and at least a pair of Springfields.Read more

It can be confusing when you work for Washington Township.

George Washington, the heroic general who helped beat back the British and found a new nation, was so beloved in New Jersey that six townships are named after him. In Pennsylvania, there are four.

Now, more than 200 years later, this is not just endearing. Consider Maureen Meehan's story.

She's a school business administrator in Washington Township, Gloucester County, still rankled by a $20,000 insurance bill that arrived 10 years late. During that decade, the bill had landed repeatedly at one of the other Washington Townships.

Meehan figured the bill was so old by the time she saw it that she was within her rights to refuse to pay. She lost in court.

"It's one of the problems of having one name for several towns. The bills went to a different Washington Township, and they were just throwing them in the trash," sighed Meehan, who for 14 years has worked in New Jersey's southernmost Washington Township, known more for sprawl than the famous George.

It's just one of the mail mix-ups, clerical mistakes and skewed checkbooks caused by same-name towns.

In addition to the Washingtons, New Jersey has four Franklins and at least a pair of Springfields, making the state map appear as if the printer hiccupped. Pennsylvania also has plenty of Franklins, Springfields - even two Tinicums.

Whoever eloquently posed the question, "What's in a name?" didn't have to deal with the modern mess created by such lack of imagination.

Meehan says the $20,000 insurance bill landed on her desk six years ago. And that's nothing compared with the school district's current jam.

Another insurance company hired by the school district is claiming it insured the wrong Washington Township district and refuses to defend a $2 million federal lawsuit filed against the district.

After dutifully paying its insurance bills each year, the district was shocked to learn three years ago that the school board didn't have liability coverage.

Great American Insurance Co. told the district that the company had insured another Washington Township - in Morris County - and referenced the address on the policy.

Joe Betley, the school board solicitor, blames Great American, saying it's taking advantage of the name duplication to avoid paying.

"I think it's highly unusual for an insurance company to deny coverage based on 'It's a different Washington Township that we covered,' " he mocked.

Anne Watson, communications vice president for Great American, said the Cincinnati-based company thought it was insuring a North Jersey school district that is one-fourth the size of the Gloucester County district - and therefore charged a much lower rate.

She blames the Gloucester County district's insurance broker, Diploma Joint Insurance Fund, which had arranged the coverage for the school.

"We don't know who typed in the wrong address," she said. "I've never heard of this happening before."

Craig Klein, a representative of Diploma, says the whole affair is confusing. He said his company represented only one Washington Township - the Gloucester County one - along with 14 other school districts in 2004. That was the year the school district was sued on behalf of a 16-year-old student who contends he was wrongly expelled.

The student's lawsuit will be heard in federal court later this year. So far, the school district is stuck with its own legal bills, although it says it will continue to press its claim that it is covered by insurance.

Debra A. Fourre, business administrator for the municipal government in Washington Township, Gloucester County, also tells a story of costly confusion.

A few months ago, the U.S. Marshal's Service ordered her to return a $10,000 check that had been electronically deposited in the township bank account. It turns out it should have gone to a different Washington Township. Good thing the town hadn't spent the money, she said.

Franklin Township suffers similar confusion. There are four in New Jersey - not counting the three Franklin Parks, the Franklin Corner, Franklin Grove, Franklin Lakes and Franklinville.

Townships of Monroe appear in four New Jersey counties, distinguished by zip codes.

In the Gloucester County Monroe, Business Administrator Kevin Heydel remembers how the library was "waiting and waiting and waiting" for a promised $7,000 state grant. It finally came, two years late, after officials discovered that another Monroe had cashed the check.