Pledging to pursue a fifth consecutive year of county tax reductions, as well as cost-saving initiatives for municipalities and more job opportunities for residents, Freeholder Director Bruce D. Garganio delivered a State of the County message last week in which he acknowledged 2012 would carry with it “more challenges,” but at the same time “gives us reason to be optimistic.”
“We have laid the groundwork for some positive initiatives, things that would benefit our municipalities and residents,” said Garganio.
He proceeded to outline an agenda that includes expanded opportunities for green energy savings for towns and schools, a move to cost-effective single-stream recycling, stronger efforts to connect businesses with job seekers, and the allocation of another $5 million in recreational grants to towns.
Garganio was chosen to serve as freeholder director of the five-member board for the third year in a row at last week’s reorganization meeting.
Reorganization was also marked by the swearing in of Leah Arter, of Moorestown, and Joseph Howarth, of Evesham, to three-year terms. Arter and Howarth replace outgoing freeholders Chris Brown, of Evesham, and Mary Anne Reinhart, of Shamong. Brown was elected to an Assembly seat in the 8th District. In addition, Surrogate George T. Kotch was sworn to a second five-year term.
The other members of the freeholder board include Joseph B. Donnelly, of Cinnaminson, who was chosen to serve as deputy director, and Mary Ann O’Brien, of Medford. All five freeholders formerly held local office.
Garganio, a union foreman carpenter by trade, also used the opportunity to call upon Burlington County residents to join with him in taking a stand against the 20 percent rate increase currently being sought by New Jersey American Water. He said the county website would soon include an online petition.
“I have to ask myself,” said Garganio, “why am I struggling through these county budgets, why am I cutting taxes, when a monopoly like New Jersey American Water can come along and set its sights on a 20 percent increase—having already accumulated 51 percent worth of increases since 2004.
“More than half our towns are affected by this greedy grab,” he added. “And yes, I’m speaking up. And I’m not letting go. And neither should any of you.”
Garganio alluded to $8.6 million in county property tax reductions over the last four years, and noted Burlington County also spent less tax dollars per resident than any other county in the state.
“Just contrast us with our neighbors,” he said. “We spend $483 per person. Camden spends $628. Gloucester spends more than $700. And if you live in Mercer, the number skyrockets to $779.”
He also cited non-fiscal accomplishments during 2011, including the official reopening of a new Burlington County Farm Fair site in Springfield, the establishment of a lease bank to help towns pay for energy-saving improvements, and the dedication of more than 2,000 police, fire, EMTs, and citizen volunteers who responded to Hurricane Irene, saying, “Let it be said that Burlington County takes care of its own.”
As director, Garganio has the responsibility of assigning freeholders as directors of individual departments. He once again named himself as director of Administration and Natural Resources.
Deputy Director Donnelly was once again appointed director of Public Works and Veterans Services; Freeholder Arter was appointed director of Education and Justice; Freeholder Howarth was appointed director of Hospital and Medical Services and election functions; and Freeholder O’Brien will oversee Public Safety and Health & Human Services.
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