Leah Arter of Moorestown is your newest freeholder

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 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,” Garganio said.

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’s remarks came during the freeholders’ ceremonial reorganization meeting, where he was chosen to serve as freeholder director of the five-member board for the third year in a row.

The swearing in of Leah Arter, of Moorestown, and Joseph Howarth, of Evesham, to three-year terms marked the reorganization.

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 in their towns.

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.

Garganio alluded to $8.6 million in county property-tax reductions over the last four years, and noted that the county also spent fewer tax dollars per resident than any other county in New Jersey.

“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 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.

Donnelly was once again appointed director of public works and veterans services; Arter was appointed director of education and justice; Howarth was appointed director of hospital and medical Services, and election functions; and O’Brien will oversee public safety and health and human services.