(Woodbury, NJ) – As 2015 comes to an end, and the 330th Reorganization of the Board of Chosen Freeholders approaches on Jan. 1, Gloucester County Freeholder Director Robert Damminger, who will serve again as Director in 2016, reflected back at some accomplishments of 2015 and looked forward to new county initiatives for the year ahead.
Damminger said, “I am really excited about the year ahead of us. What we do for our residents and our taxpayers often serve as a model for other counties. Whether it is creating a premier partnership between our community college and Rowan University, creating a regionalized Emergency Response System that answers over 18,000 calls a year with an average response time of under 6 minutes, or providing revolving loans to small businesses to help create jobs and boost our local economy, Gloucester County is always one step ahead in providing good government. “
Damminger said although the county prepares for all types of emergencies, no one could have expected the sudden and devastating storm that hit the county on June 23, 2015.
“When the dust cleared, many regions of our county were left unrecognizable. 85-mile per hour straight-line winds – a ‘microburst’ according to the National Weather Service – tested the strength of Gloucester County’s Emergency Services and Public Works and many other agencies. The damage was excessive and severe and the days-long without power for many was excruciating. But in the end I am really proud of the leadership the county showed for our citizens,” Damminger stated.
Damminger said, “The county immediately went to work and took over many roles. We coordinated with municipalities and local public works departments, we set up comfort stations and gave away ice and water for the thousands of residents without power, and we worked for days and nights straight to get roads cleared of massive tree debris for the power company line crews to have access to the power transformers and downed lines. We learned a lot through that experience. We learned that the men and women who work for Gloucester County and our municipalities do an amazing job. We learned and assessed where the weaknesses are and have been working ever since to improve our response plans, asset inventories, municipal communication and participation as well as training every county management and department leads for emergency readiness.”
Damminger said that on the positive side, the Freeholders were delighted to celebrate the first year of the premier partnership that was forged to create Rowan College at Gloucester County. The partnership saves residents money on their way to a four-year degree so they are not straddled with debt upon graduation.
This past May the students who donned their caps and gowns started their college career as Gloucester County College students and left as Rowan College at Gloucester County graduates, most ready to take the next seamless step at Rowan University.
Damminger said, “It costs a little over $4,000 per year at RCGC, and more than $12,000 per year at Rowan University, so our students can save over $18,000 by attending RCGC for two years and then complete their undergraduate work at Rowan University.”
“But we wanted to do something even more meaningful, something that could create even greater access for county students,” Damminger said. “Beginning this September, 20 Gloucester County residents will be able to attend RCGC at absolutely no cost.
Two years of cost free college will be provided to up to twenty students who are accepted to the new Gloucester County Internship Scholarship program. These students will be able to attend two years of RCGC tuition and fees free, in exchange for their commitment to work several hours per week in select county departments that coordinate and support their field of study.”
Public Health, Engineering, Economic Development, Social Services, and Public Safety are some of the areas where curricula is being written by RCGC so students get hands-on apprenticeships in their field of study. Damminger said, “By committing just several hours a week during the regular school year and eighty hours per month during a five-week summer commitment to a county government office, these students will receive a world of knowledge and a wealth of hands on experience to help them start their careers without a huge student loan at the end.”
Damminger said that another aspect to the Gloucester County’s support to the local economy is supporting small business. There are 11,431 business in Gloucester County and of those 10,582 have 50 or less employees and are categorized as small business - so 92.5% of all Gloucester County Business are considered small business. “The expansion of the Small Business Loan Fund in 2016, and our continued partnership with the Cooperative Business Assistance Corporation, will provide more than $200,000 in small business loans to our local business owners in the coming year.”
Damminger said that with the Port of Paulsboro quickly coming online, positive signs of economic stability and growth are most noticeable in the Gloucester County industrial and commercial market.
“We have seen business growth this year and lower unemployment numbers. In the last year through business attraction and retention efforts the county has facilitated the relocation of 15 new companies, creating 1,500 new permanent jobs, over 1,200 construction jobs, and retained 1,500 jobs and seen over $260 million in capital investment,” stated Director Damminger.
Providing access to good jobs, quality and affordable education, infrastructure and transportation are essential elements of operating a good government, but so are making sure your citizens and first responders are healthy and safe.
Damminger said that through the Office of Emergency Response the first phase of the new $16 million upgrade to the Public Safety Radio Network is being tested right now. “This is a significant milestone in our construction of 700 MHz P25 Public Safety Network that will help eliminate radio inoperability to our first responders. This new network will be fully operational by mid year as 3,000 radios are to be distributed to our first responders, and as training and vehicle installation is completed.”
Damminger said that there are many other positive actions that will take place throughout the year that this Board will work on to help improve the lives of children, working families, seniors, and veterans.
Damminger concluded, “Our goal is always to do more with less, but also to leave our community better than when we started. We have many bright men and women who are dedicated to working on behalf of our county every day who help us cut costs, share services, and deliver an effective and efficient government. Through the many people we touch everyday with the dozens of programs and services we provide, I am optimistic that our coming year ahead will be one that will continue to give our resident the best government we can to help improve their quality of life.”