Provided by the Burlington County Office of Public Information
Leah Arter was sworn in as director of the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders Thursday, pledging to enact a new jobs initiative in 2014 to assist unemployed and underemployed residents, and issuing a “budget challenge” to her fellow freeholders to find cost-savings that would reduce property taxes for the sixth consecutive year.
Arter, of Moorestown, was elected during the traditional organizational meeting, held in the historic courthouse in Mount Holly. The event also included the swearing-in of Joe Donnelly, of Cinnaminson, to his third three-year term on the board; Timothy Tyler, of Fieldsboro, to a second five-year term as county clerk; and Jean Stanfield, of Westampton, to her fifth three-year term as sheriff.
Now in her third year as a freeholder, Arter delivered a State of the County address that highlighted financial accomplishments, noting Burlington County’s record of spending less money per citizen than any other county in the state.
“To put it in simple terms, when you contrast us with neighboring counties, we are the only county that actually spent less—like $32 million less—in 2007 than in 2012,” Arter said. “And last year we reduced our general operations budget by another $15 million … We didn’t sacrifice county services. Quite the contrary. We are always raising the bar, embarking on new initiatives, and expanding the services that matter most.”
The unfortunate reality, said Arter, is even though the real estate market is recovering, the county is facing yet another decrease in ratables in 2014 and a corresponding loss in revenue. She said all freeholders should participate in the “hands-on” task of making up that shortfall.
“Today I am putting a budget challenge on the table,” she said. “I am calling on each of my colleagues to meet with their department heads, and return no later than Jan. 31 with plans for cutting costs, consolidating tasks, and other proposals that will enable us to reach a better bottom line.”
Second on the director’s list of priorities for the new year is the creation of a new Workforce Development Initiative which, she said, is “built upon the premise that every Burlington County resident who wants a job will find one.”
This program will target training and other resources available through county schools, the Burlington County Chamber of Commerce, existing agencies, and other organizations, Arter said, adding, “Most critical to this initiative will be the ongoing participation of business owners and their hiring managers, who will directly convey to us the skills they are looking for in new workers.”
She cited three other key goals for the coming year, which included.
Creation of a shared services website — County staff were charged with the responsibility of creating an interactive webpage where the county, towns and other local entities could post their successful shared services programs and look for others.
Creation of a comprehensive health program — The Health Department is charged with undertaking an aggressive campaign to encourage residents to eat healthier, exercise regularly, manage stress and take advantage of free health screenings.
Stronger communication with local business — Arter, who owns a small business, charged herself with the responsibility of building upon the county’s “Buy Local” program by visiting downtowns and local stores and shops, and giving other business owners an opportunity to share with her their needs and issues.
“At some point later in the year, I will report back to you with what I learned,” she said. “Hopefully, it will provide us with more insight as to how our Workforce Initiative, and our Buy Local program, can be improved.”
Touching on the accomplishments of 2013, Arter noted that the county found a new home for the Underground Railroad Museum at Historic Smithville Park; saved Mount Holly Library from closure because of finances, and initiated plans to turn it into a museum; and partnered with local government and others to salvage Rancocas Nature Center and the creative programs it offers children.
“In addition,” she said, “our Human Services Department was given an extreme makeover, and turned into a one-stop career center that can better identify, and address, all the needs of individuals and families when they walk in the door.
“And we hired a new cultural affairs director to ensure that all programs of county government foster a culturally rich, inclusive and inviting climate,” she added.
Arter said the coming year will see the kickoff a new single-stream recycling program, and that her plans also included the awarding of another $5 million in recreation grants to towns to improve parks, ballfields, trails and other recreational facilities.