Commission Authorizes Assumption of County Economic Development Functions
Public Can Expect Seamless Transition, Uninterrupted Service
At the Commission’s May meeting, Bridge Commissioners John Comegno, Priscilla Anderson and Troy Singleton took action to further the Commission’s commitment to shared services and consolidation by formally agreeing to assume the County’s economic development and regional planning functions.
“The joint initiative that we take with the Freeholders today is one that will impact virtually every taxpayer in Burlington County,” said Chairman Comegno. “Once again, the Freeholders and the Commission are ‘out in front’ of eliminating duplication of services and saving taxpayers money.”
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Comegno applauded Commission staff for their work over the past several months with County representatives in hammering out the details of the changeover and creating a mutually agreeable transition plan. This was a result of the Commissioners’ direction that staff take all necessary actions to effectuate the orderly and efficient assumption of the County’s economic development and regional planning responsibilities as soon as possible.
The real goal, Comegno said, is to ensure that the public is provided with uninterrupted service: “We want a transition so seamless that the public sees no gap in service.”
Through its current economic development and improvement authority powers, the Bridge Commission assists Burlington County municipalities in economic development and community revitalization projects and extends pooled financing options to local governments and nonprofits in Burlington County. These initiatives alone have resulted in a savings of approximately $14 million dollars and more than $9 million dollars in grant monies for municipalities.
The new functions the Bridge Commission will assume include assisting municipalities and the private sector to implement plans to foster economic development, including:
· marketing and business development,
· technical assistance,
· assisting the Workforce Investment Board in planning and executing strategies for workforce development in the county, and
· administering private sector loan programs such as the County’s small business loan program.
The Commission will also assume the County’s current responsibilities of regional planning, which includes helping municipalities plan for growth, development, and preservation. Specifically, the Bridge Commission will assist municipalities with:
· regional planning and coordination initiatives
· community and municipal planning and coordination (e.g, local planning initiatives, preparation of master plans and housing plans)
· analysis of information like demographics, economic and statistics
· cartography and mapping
The Commission will also assist the Burlington County Office of Community Development with strategic planning and help the US Bureau of Census with data gathering.
“Assuming Burlington County’s economic development functions better positions the Commission to address economic growth issues, serve the towns and business community, and helps our taxpayers find jobs in this struggling economy,” said Commissioner Troy E. Singleton.
Vice Chairwoman Priscilla B. Anderson praised the move: “This change is certainly in the best interests of the Burlington County taxpayers. It’s an effort to avoid duplicating services and to work together with the Freeholders for the good of the County. It’s just good business.”
The Burlington County Bridge Commission also manages the Tacony-Palmyra and Burlington-Bristol Bridges.
Commission Adopts New Reform Policies
Agency’s Bi-partisan Support for Further Reforms in Sync with Governor’s Reform Plan
Bridge Commission Chairman John Comegno announced that he and Commissioners Priscilla Anderson and Troy Singleton plan to enact further reforms consistent with Governor Christie’s calls for increased public accountability and the report issued by the New Jersey State Commission of Investigation (SCI) late last year, both of which called for an end to wasteful and excessive spending at independent authorities and commissions. In that effort, the Commissioners instructed that certain Commission policies that are inconsistent with SCI recommendations and the Governor’s Executive Order #15 be changed immediately and become effective April 13th.
“As soon as the SCI report came out, I ordered staff to analyze Commission policies and procedures and we immediately took action,” said Comegno. “We’ve become a leader in self-scrutiny and reforming our own agency—these new steps further the Commission’s commitment to being a model agency.”
Former State Attorney General and current SCI Chairman W. Cary Edwards, who was instrumental in guiding the agency’s self-directed reforms, praised the Commission’s next phase of reforms, not only for their content, but also for adopting new policies in advance of any directive or imposed legislation. “The Bridge Commission is setting an example that other agencies should follow—this Commission continues to, in a bi-partisan way, set the bar high for governmental organizations at all levels. That’s exactly what the SCI Report was hoping to achieve---effective and meaningful reform.”
Specifically, the Commission’s newly enacted policies:
- prohibit payment for accumulated sick and vacation time on a yearly basis,
- limit payment for accumulated sick and vacation time upon retirement,
- limit compensatory time to non-executive employees and only then with stringent limitations, including prior approval,
- reduce the maximum earned annual vacation time and limit vacation time carryover,
- decrease the number of paid holidays and eliminate non-traditional days off,
- prohibit awarding of “terminal leave” which allows employees to stay on the payroll while accruing sick/vacation time at full salary and benefits,
Commissioner Troy Singleton said, “I stand, in a bi-partisan fashion, with my fellow Commissioners, and know that these reforms take us to the next level of accountability.”
These actions follow the Commissioners’ decision one month ago to give up the salaries and benefits they received as Bridge Commissioners in response to Governor Christie’s Executive Order #15, in which he called on independent State authorities, boards, and commissions to employ the same safeguards that are standard practices in state government, which included analyzing whether or not board members should be compensated for their service.
“The Governor is making tough decisions and taking bold actions in our state, and we all have a choice to either be part of the problem or part of the solution,” said Vice-Chairwoman Priscilla Anderson. “The Bridge Commission is determined to be part of the solution.”
The Burlington County Bridge Commission manages the Tacony-Palmyra and Burlington-Bristol Bridges, and through its economic development and improvement authority powers, assists Burlington County municipalities in economic development and community revitalization projects and extends pooled financing options to local governments and nonprofits in Burlington County. These initiatives have resulted in a savings of approximately $14 million dollars and more than $9 million dollars in grant monies for municipalities.
Surveys Poll Towns on Municipal Needs
With most of Burlington County’s municipalities facing large reductions in State aid, the Burlington County Bridge Commission, in cooperation with the Burlington County Freeholders, introduced a Shared Service initiative aimed at assisting towns in potentially reducing local property tax increases. Government officials received letters and needs assessment surveys earlier this month, with responses due back May 21st. The survey is designed to help identify potential sharing opportunities. For more information or if your town needs another copy, contact Marie Ozalis, 856-829-1900. Completed surveys can be faxed to 856-303-1827 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Baby Falcon Atop Tacony-Palmyra
On May 20th, PCNP Naturalist Kristina Merola and Kathy Clark, Principal Zoologist for NJ DEP’s Division of Fish and Wildlife's Endangered and Nongame Species Program, climbed to the top of the arch span of the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge to do more than see the falcon chick (called an eyas) that was inside the nesting box there. They banded the female chick, much to the dismay of her falcon parents!
How they did it: After Kathy removed the Peregrine Falcon chick from the box, she handed it to Kristina to hold as Kathy applied the bands. Kathy determined the chick was female by its size (females are larger than males). Throughout the banding process, the parents were screaming and diving at Kathy and Kristina, and even knocked into Kathy’s hard hat during the initial approach to the box! They only calmed down after they were away from the box and heading down the bridge. Jack DiGiovanna, Field Engineer from Pennoni Associates, Inc., stood behind them, taking photos and shooing away the parents during the banding process.
Interested in seeing into the falcon nesting box? A live feed to monitors in PCNP’s Environmental Discovery Center allows you to do just that!
Bird Quest Brought the Birders—and the Competition!
On Saturday, May 1st we celebrated International Migratory Bird Day, as we do annually, with a birding contest at PCNP. This year 52 birders, representing 6 teams, competed for 5 hours, birding in parks all over the county including ours. They identified, by sight and sound, the various species and recorded them on a tally sheet. At 12 Noon all contestants returned to PCNP. The team with the greatest number of species identified won the contest and received Palmyra Cove pins. Raffle items included a gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited from Cherry Hill and a PCNP t-shirt, hat, and sweat shirt. PCNP Naturalist Kristina Merola, who organizes and facilitates Bird Quest, reported that everyone enjoyed a great day.
Think you might be interested in birding? Come check out PCNP’s Beginning Birding for Adults, to be held Saturday, June 19th and Saturday, July 17th, 9 AM to 12 PM. For more information, call 856-829-1900, ext. 267.
What to do this Summer? Come to PCNP for Camp & Family Fun!
When school is finished for the year, you can continue learning with PCNP’s hands-on Family Fun Program. The entire family can join in the fun! Come for Wetland Wandering on Monday June 14th, Meadow March on Monday June 21st, or River Romp on Monday, June 28th. All sessions are from 10 AM to 11:30 AM and require reservations. Call 856-829-1900, ext. 267 for more information.
Students going into grades 3 to 6 will love Cove Campers Summer Camp! Learn about plant and animal life along the Delaware River through activities like wetland exploration, beach hikes, habitat lessons, shelter building, seining, birding, and nature crafts. Two camp sessions will be held: July 5th through 9th and July 12th through 16th, from 9 AM to 12 PM each day. Reserve your spot now! Call 856-829-1900, ext. 267 for more information.