Mary Ann O’Brien was unanimously elected Director of the Burlington County Board of Chosen Freeholders at their reorganization meeting, pledging to make Burlington County more affordable for all residents while expanding services for those in need.
O’Brien, of Medford, was elected during the traditional organizational meeting held in the Olde Historic Court House in Mt Holly on Jan. 7. The event also included the swearing in of Bruce Garganio, of Florence, to his second three-year term on the board. Garganio was also selected to serve as Deputy Director of the Board.
As the newly elected freeholder director, O’Brien delivered a state of the county address that highlighted financial accomplishments, noting that Burlington County government has a record of fiscal responsibility.
“When it comes to property taxes, this board has a record that knows no equal. County property taxes have been cut for six consecutive years, down by more than 20 million dollars,” O’Brien said. “We are proud that the independent Pew Charitable Trust has credited Burlington County with having the lowest comparable tax burden in the Philadelphia region. With assistance from our colleagues across the aisle, we will continue to build upon this record of fiscal responsibility.”
“Still, a family’s finances go beyond taxes alone,” O’Brien continued, citing the county’s new energy aggregation program as another effort to make Burlington County more affordable by reducing electric utility bills by up to 10 percent a month. “In the year ahead we will make those monthly utility savings a reality.”
O’Brien’s central message was one to all residents, many of whom she acknowledged are unfamiliar with all that the county has to offer.
“Tonight, I want to make it clear to all of our residents that our job is to be in their corner. To the young graduate looking for a job, to the family in need of a stable home, we are in your corner. And when every resident sits down to pay their taxes or utility bills; they should know that we are in their corner, fighting to make those bills more affordable,” O’Brien said.
From there, Director O’Brien cited four key goals for the coming year, which included:
• Establishment of a Rapid Rehousing Pilot Program for Homeless Residents. O’Brien pledged that in 2015 Burlington County will become the first county in the state to implement a program in which rapid rehousing funds will be dedicated to place “individuals and families in need of housing into a real home and provide them with the assistance necessary to become self-reliant” rather than living from motel to motel under the current State system.
• Creation of a Workforce Development Center. O’Brien announced that, “in the weeks ahead we will open a one-stop Workforce Development Center at Burlington County College’s Mt Holly facility. This center will serve as the central point of access for all workforce development services and programs.” She explained that this new center would “provide a better access point for both job seekers and potential employers, allowing residents to more easily receive the assistance and guidance that they need to advance their careers.”
• Opening of New Youth “Drop In” Facilities. O’Brien pledged that, “In 2015, we will establish new Youth Drop-In Centers designed specifically to address the needs of our youth within their communities. These centers will allow us to bring consolidated services directly to our at risk populations and I look forward to their success.”
• Additional Programming for the new “Health Starts Here” Initiative: O’Brien pledged to increase outreach into the community with two programs aimed at helping residents stay active. Sneaker Sundays, started by O’Brien during her first term as freeholder, will allow residents to join O’Brien as she leads nature walks through various parks throughout the county. In addition, the new Saddle Up Saturdays program will allow for monthly bike rides along county trails and roads as O’Brien seeks to raise awareness about the many opportunities for outdoor recreation made possible through County efforts.
O’Brien said that the coming year will see an increased focus on partnerships with local non-profits, a continued commitment to the county’s Buy Local campaign, and emphasis on expanding shared services with our affiliated county agencies including Burlington County College, BCIT, BCSSD, Burlington County Library and the Burlington County Bridge Commission. She also stated that her plans include the awarding of another $5 million in recreation grants to the towns to improve parks, ball fields, trails and other recreational facilities.
As director, O’Brien also has the responsibility of assigning freeholders as directors of individual departments. She placed herself as director of administration and human services; Bruce Garganio, will oversee public works and health; Joe Donnelly was named director of natural resources, economic development and education; Aimee Belgard remains as director of hospital and medical services, and elections; and Joanne Schwartz was appointed as director of public safety and corrections.