Chris Carney was elected director of the Sussex County Board of Commissioners at the annual reorganization meeting Jan. 4.
Herbert Yardley was elected deputy director at the meeting, held in the Sussex County Community College’s Center for Performing Arts.
Jill Space and William Hayden were sworn in as commissioners. Both Republicans were elected to three-year terms Nov. 8 over Democrats Damaris Lira and Camila DeResta.
Anthony Fasano, former director of the board, did not seek re-election.
Space previously was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Sylvia Petillo, who retired in April.
Also taking the oath for a new three-year term was Sheriff Michael Strada, a Republican who has been sheriff since 2011.
Carney said his goals for 2023 are to develop better connections with county employees, hold more meetings with administrators, and bring back open forums with mayors and council presidents of Sussex County towns to discuss issues.
He also wants to improve the county website and revive the monthly newsletter to keep residents informed.
”This past year, this board began implementing changes and cuts to county operations that did not impact services provided to the taxpayers,” he said.
He looks forward to continuing operational reviews to cut waste.
Space said she looks forward to continuing to serve on the budget committee, which has been reviewing county spending since October.
“Many cuts will need to be made to keep Sussex County affordable,” she said, adding that commissioners need to look out for county employees while keeping the taxpayers in mind.
Maintaining infrastructure and county buildings also are priorities, she said.
Commissioner Dawn Fantasia said overall taxes declined in the 2022 county budget while it maintained funds for capital improvements and continued the 10-year debt-reduction plan.
“Our county’s ratable base has grown from $17.7 billion in 2020 to $19.1 billion in 2022 with nearly half a million in new construction tax revenue. This is very helpful in the face of obscenely spiking health-insurance rates.”
The commissioners are using American Rescue Plan Act funds to help small businesses, and Sussex was one of the few New Jersey counties to offer hazard pay to its employees “to the tune of nearly $4 million” during the pandemic, she pointed out.
The board will continue to deliver high levels of critical services to residents and to support county workers by improving staffing levels, Fantasia said.
“Growth that prioritizes safety and critical services will remain this board’s focus.”
She also wants to improve communications between the county, the towns and the public.
Fantasia called for improving health and social services, implementing new community outreach programs and working with the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce to attract new consumers.
”And finally ... supporting our District 24 legislators as they tirelessly push at the state level for our needs in this often-forgotten corner of northwestern New Jersey.”
Call for reforms
Hayden recounted some of the ideas he proposed as a candidate: a revenue and spending portal, contract review committee, ethics committee, open records review board, online monthly meetings so residents can talk to commissioners, and requiring lobbyists to register as they do at the state and federal levels.
”Workplace efficiency and controlling spending and debt is the only way to cut property taxes,” he said.
Supporting and retaining experienced county employees is a priority and finding places to cut spending is necessary to raise salaries without raising taxes, he added.
Yardley pointed out that the county has received grant funds that will pay for 11 new buses, including five that will arrive this year.
He wants to see resolved this year the problem of losing trucks to rust because the county has no way to wash them down.
During public comments, Kevin Lindahl of Bloomfield urged the commissioners to give county workers a raise. The county is in negotiations with the union representing workers; the previous contract expired Dec. 31.
”They deserve to get paid a living wage,” he said.
”They’ve saved lives in our blizzards. They’ve prevented people from losing their lives with the snow removal. They’ve paved our roads and kept our roads safe, and that alone has saved countless lives.”
“Our county’s ratable base has grown from $17.7 billion in 2020 to $19.1 billion in 2022 with nearly half a million in new construction tax revenue. This is very helpful in the face of obscenely spiking health-insurance rates.” - Commissioner Dawn Fantasia