Experience trumps enthusiasm

Posted: Thursday, October 24, 2013 4:00 am

When Burlington County residents step behind the curtain to vote on Nov. 5, they will have a number of decisions to make, including who will lead them in to the future.

Democratic newcomer Reva Foster of Willingboro is challenging Republican Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly of Cinnaminson for a three-year seat on the county board.

Foster’s background is commendable. She is an Air Force veteran and has served the Willingboro Senior Center for 20 years. She is now executive director, handling the day-to-day operations of the center and its programs.

Donnelly has been a freeholder for six years. He previously served on the Cinnaminson Township Committee and on the Riverton Borough Council.

Both candidates acknowledge that high unemployment and property taxes are among the biggest issues facing Burlington County.

If elected, Foster said she would allow for more transparency on the freeholder board and require department heads to self-evaluate employees and services annually to ensure cost efficiencies. She also would disallow large political contributors from obtaining county contracts and use county employees whenever possible instead of hiring outside firms to handle legal matters.

Donnelly has made inroads on both the lack of jobs and high property taxes. While the county’s economy has taken some hits — Ocean Spray is about to move from Bordentown City to the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania, for example — there have been victories. He has successfully used tax incentives to attract and retain companies, such as Destination Maternity, which will have a warehouse in Florence and its headquarters in Moorestown, and Burlington Coat Factory, which is building a new facility in Florence. The three projects have brought hundreds of construction jobs and will provide permanent employment for about 1,000 people in total.

Foster said she would bring jobs to the county by more aggressively pursuing and retaining employers as well as by working closely with local governments to bring about additional employment opportunities.

During Donnelly’s tenure, county spending has been cut from $227 million to $184 million. Faced with falling property values and revenue, the board was able to keep the overall county tax rate the same as in 2012, although the tax levy went up slightly. Donnelly spearheaded the privatization of Buttonwood Hospital and cut open-space tax collection by half. Despite the cut, which is temporary, according to Donnelly, the county enjoys a decent surplus and will be able to fully fund its planned open-space acquisitions. The Buttonwood decision was not a popular one, but the facility was losing money and would have cost county taxpayers $10 million over the next several years. Donnelly also has taken a voluntary 50 percent cut to his freeholder salary and has refused the health care benefits offered.

Under Donnelly’s watch, single-stream recycling — an added convenience for residents that also will save county municipalities money in landfill fees — is being implemented. He also was instrumental in revitalizing the Route 130 corridor and has plans to revisit and update those plans, as well as to invigorate parts of Route 206.

Foster is a dedicated public servant. She deserves much credit for her years of hard work and enthusiastic support for the community and its seniors, but we don’t believe her eagerness can compete with Donnelly’s six years of experience and proven success.

We endorse Joe Donnelly for freeholder.