The following remarks on the state of the county were provided by Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. and are reprinted here.
I would like to thank my colleagues for giving me the honor and privilege to continue to serve as director of the Camden County Board of Freeholders. I thank each of you for your continued hard work and dedication to improving the quality of life for the residents of Camden County.
Every member of this board has a strong sense of commitment to public service. Thanks to the leadership of these members, and the hard work of the employees of Camden County, I am happy to report that the state of Camden County is good and getting better.
Despite continued difficult economic times, 2013 was a good year for Camden County. Under the leadership of Deputy Director McDonnell, outreach to our county’s senior citizens and veterans increased substantially.
As a result, the amount of services provided to seniors and to veterans improved in a meaningful way. Deputy Director McDonnell also played a significant role in the creation of boundless field, an athletic facility for special needs children and adults that was constructed at Challenge Grove Park in Cherry Hill.
Under the direction of Freeholder Nash, we made significant enhancements and improvements to Cooper River Park and completed a plan to make even more improvements to the park over the next several years.
Freeholder Nash’s efforts did not go unnoticed. In 2013 Cooper River Park was named a great place of New Jersey by the American Planning Association and the top regional environmental program of the year by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission.
In 2013, Freeholder Gentek began a community effort to develop a plan to make our county a sustainable county. The plan will help to sustain our resources, promote innovative green practices in our county and save money.
Freeholder Rodriguez, liaison to our health department, brought health services and education to the community through events and use of county’s health mobile van in all parts of the county. The van provides basic health services such as screenings, counseling, chronic disease control and physicals for first responders.
Under Freeholder Leonard’s leadership, we made drastic improvements to bridges throughout Camden County. Most notably, we opened the Baird Boulevard Bridge and State Street Bridge in Camden to traffic.
Those two historic spans will now serve the needs of motorists for the next 100 years. Work also has begun on the full reconstruction of the Broadway Bridge connecting Brooklawn and Gloucester city. That project will be completed in 2014.
2013 was a monumental year for public safety in Camden County. Freeholder McCray brought to conclusion the installation of a new 700 MHz radio system at the Camden County Emergency Communications Center.
This system currently dispatches to all of the fire and emergency medical services from each of our 37 municipalities and 33 police departments. It has the capacity to serve all police departments in our county. This initiative enables our first responders to provide critical emergency services in a more effective and efficient manner than ever before to our residents.
On May 1, 2013, we launched the metro division of the Camden county police department. The metro division has already made substantial progress towards its goal of reducing the number of crimes in Camden City and in making the residents of Camden City feel safer.
Thanks to the leadership of Chief Scott Thomson and the determination and commitment of the men and women who serve the metro division, crime has been reduced substantially and the residents of Camden City are able to enjoy their parks and playgrounds.
Total crime was reduced by 13 percent in 2013, total non-violent crime was reduced by 19 percent. Most significantly, the reduction in crime in Parkside and Fairview, where we were fully operational, was drastic. For example, arson was down 67 percent in Parkside, motor vehicle theft was down 33 percent in Fairview and there was just one murder between the two neighborhoods since our officers hit the streets on May 1.
Though we still have a long way to go, with just 60 percent of the metro division police force of 411 officers, the tide has begun to turn with regard to fighting crime in Camden City.
We are very excited by the new initiatives that will be presented by the Board of Freeholders in 2014. For the first time in history, Camden County’s bond rating has been upgraded to AA.
This upgrade was the result of smart fiscal practices utilized by the Camden County Board of Freeholders over the past several years and the outstanding work of County Administrator Ross Angilella and his management team. It is also a reflection of Wall Street’s economic optimism for our county.
Just as 2013 will be viewed as the year that Camden City began to be a safer place, 2014 will be viewed as the year that economic recovery took hold in Camden County. The Economic Opportunity Act, sponsored by senator Donald Norcross, provides unprecedented mechanisms for economic development to our region.
The Board of Freeholders, the Camden County Improvement Authority, the Camden County Employment Resource Center and Camden County College will work closely with the state of New Jersey, Camden City and Coopers Ferry Partnership to attract new businesses and investment to Camden County.
It will take a cohesive and coordinated team effort to accomplish the goals of this legislation. We are committed to making these goals a reality. The creation of jobs will be our priority in this effort.
In addition, we will identify sources of funds for use by municipalities throughout Camden County for redevelopment purposes. We will partner with municipalities on redevelopment projects in order to revitalize those properties in our county which are underutilized or vacant.
Redevelopment projects along the White Horse Pike in Somerdale and in Clementon are outstanding examples of what can be done throughout all of our communities to bring new investment and new life to our neighborhoods.
In addition, we will meet with representatives of the top 100 employers in Camden County to thank them for their investment in Camden County and to ascertain whether or not we can be of any assistance to them in maintaining and creating jobs.
The message has to be clear; Camden County is open for business.
In 2014, Deputy Director McDonnell will build upon the gains we have made in expanding senior and veteran services. In addition, Deputy Director McDonnell will lead us to enrich programs for disabled children and adults. This board is committed to helping those most in need.
2014 will be a watershed year for the Camden county parks system. Freeholder Nash’s plans to enhance and improve Pyne Poynt Park and Cooper River Park will begin to be implemented.
In addition, Gateway Park and Farnham Park will be made accessible to all residents of our county. It is important to note that all of these park plans and the implementation of the plans have been made possible by the engagement and input of the communities that surround them.
This year, Freeholder Rodriguez will begin a new initiative to direct much more attention to the recognition, prevention and treatment of substance abuse in Camden County.
Let’s face it, most of the crime that we see in our communities is drug-related. It is a problem that we cannot ignore or arrest our way out of. It is a problem that must be met with real solutions. A task force will be formed of experts at all levels to identify the specific issues that need to be addressed to attack this major health issue.
Under the direction of Freeholder Leonard, in 2014 we will launch a new literacy campaign for adults and children that will include computer training. This effort will be aimed at reducing illiteracy in Camden County and helping to prepare our children and young adults for the thousands of jobs that we believe will become available over the next few years as a result of the economic opportunity act.
In addition, Freeholder Leonard will continue to find ways for our Technical Schools and our County College to work together to provide expanded educational opportunities for our residents.
I mentioned earlier that 33 of our police departments currently utilize the new 700 MHz radio system. This year, under Freeholder McCray’s direction, we will be welcoming Pennsauken and Winslow to the system and begin planning for the acceptance of Camden County Metro Division.
By the end of this year, our 9-1-1 system will be hailed as one of the most successful shared service projects in the state of New Jersey.
In 2014, with the help of community leaders, Freeholder Gentek will begin implementation of a sustainable county plan. She will also oversee the redevelopment of greenhouses at Lakeland to be made available for use by green teams and master gardeners to grow plants that will beautify Camden County. Additionally, Freeholder Gentek will lead an effort to bring the bike share effort to new heights.
In 2014, the metro division will grow to 411 officers. We will seek to reduce the overall crime rate by another 15 percent and to dismantle, at least, 3 drug trafficking organizations as we continue to make Camden City and Camden County a safer place to live and work.
None of what we have accomplished and none of what we will accomplish could happen without the dedication and hard work of the employees of Camden County. Under the leadership of our administrator, Ross Angilella, our employees have gone beyond the call of duty to make certain that the policies set forth by this board are implemented. We the board and the residents of Camden County are very fortunate to have such a talented and creative county employee force.
Because of the leadership provided by this board and the hard work of our employees, the quality of life in Camden County will improve in 2014. We will see job growth, continued public safety improvements, improvements to our recreational facilities, increased property values and increased services to those most in need.”