OCEAN COUNTY – The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders held their annual reorganization meeting recently, where Gerry P. Little was elected as Freeholder Director and John C. Bartlett was named Deputy Director for the 2018 year.
The reorganization meeting was made special this year by the Ocean County Sheriff’s Color Guard and the Ocean County Police Chiefs Association as they led the Pledge of Allegiance. This was a first for the county’s history, said Little. The moment was meant to signify the Board of Chosen Freeholders’ support for local law enforcement in the county. The freeholders honored the work that county law enforcement agencies do for the local communities.
“They really protect our communities and keep our families safe,” said Little. “We greatly appreciate them.”
Little also outlined some of the major priorities that the board plans to focus on this year. First on this list is maintaining the fiscal stability of taxpayer money. According to Little, the county has been very successful at maintaining a fiscally sound budget for some time.
“We up-fronted over $100 million for the clean-up costs of Superstorm Sandy,” back in 2012, he said.
Due to the stability of the budget, said Little, the county was able to up front a large sum of money to go towards the clean-up effort after Sandy left the county ridden with massive debris and storm damage. The county was able to do this while saving the taxpayers millions of dollars. Taxpayers later applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants that would reimburse them for the repairs and clean-up done following the storm and then paid it back to the county, said Little.
Also on the to-do list for 2018 are improvements to roads, infrastructure, and stormwater projects. Little said that the county will be spending anywhere between $30-40 million on these projects in order to maintain and improve the largest county road system in New Jersey.
“We have 624 miles of roads…and 240 bridges that we maintain,” he said.
Two factors that Little also emphasized as very important to the board this year are the large senior citizen and veteran communities in the county.
“Ocean County has more senior citizens [and veterans] than any other county in New Jersey,” said Little.
With 140,000-160,000 senior citizens and 40,000-50,000 veterans, he noted that the county programs for these communities are designed specifically to help these large populations. Despite the unfortunate decrease in the veteran population as War II veterans pass away, according to Little, the focus on these two exceptionally large populations still remains strong for this year.
Another significant focus of the board will be tourism. “The tourism industry generates about $4 billion and 60,000-70,000 seasonal jobs,” said Little.
Although the jobs are seasonal, Little noted that they teach kids looking for summer work how to develop a good work ethic and immerse themselves better into the professional world. The board plans to dedicate time to maintaining and supporting the tourism industry of Ocean County because it is such an integral part of the economy.
Little is also very adamant about protecting the Joint Base McGuire – Dix – Lakehurst. “The Joint Base is the largest employer in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “We are very active in working to protect that base from the ever-present issue of downsizing and consolidation.”
Little believes the base is a key for national defense as well as technological advancements.
Overall, for the New Year, Little said that the Board of Chosen Freeholders plans to continue working together effectively to enact programs and solve issues throughout the county. He said that, despite each freeholder working in their own individual department, they all make a great effort to come to agreements when working together because he believes it instills confidence in the people.
“We try to speak as one untied voice,” he said.
Little has been on the Board for 15 years, now taking the position of Director Freeholder. The longest serving member of the Board is Deputy Director Bartlett, serving for 39 years. Freeholder Joseph Vicari has been a member for 37 years and Freeholder John Kelly, 28 years. Freeholder Virginia Haines is the newest member having served for only 2 years.