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Warren County Freeholders: Tough financial road ahead in 2013

By Kevin Lechiski, WFMZ.com Reporter, news@wfmz.com
Published On: Jan 01 2013 08:58:00 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 01 2013 08:58:58 PM CST
Jason Sarnoski

Jason Sarnoski, joined by his family, is sworn in as Freeholder Director by State Senator Michael Doherty.

BELVIDERE, N.J. -

In what is projecting to be a very challenging financial year, the Warren County Freeholders are saying just about every aspect of the county government needs to be put on the table for examination, including the Warren Haven nursing home.

That was the message shared by more than one Freeholder during the three-member board’s annual reorganization meeting New Year’s Day at the Warren County Courthouse in Belvidere.

During the meeting, Freeholder Jason Sarnoski was unanimously selected Freeholder Director for 2013, while newly elected Freeholder Edward Smith was unanimously appointed Deputy Director.

During the reorganization meeting’s customary message from each freeholder, Sarnoski said that a combination of dropping revenues and lower real estate values have created a very challenging fiscal environment in Warren County.

Despite the county having very limited debt due to a longstanding pay-as-you-go philosophy with capital projects, Sarnoski said the county is nonetheless facing some very difficult financial decisions during 2013.

One of them will be the Warren Haven nursing home, which was more than $1.3 million in the red in 2011 and was projected to be about twice that amount at the end of 2012.

As a result, Smith said the Freeholders are seeking bids on the possible privatization of the 180-bed home’s housekeeping, laundry and food services. Smith said cuts in reimbursements are a culprit for the financial crisis at Warren Haven, and he anticipates further cuts in state or federal funding for the home.

“We can’t continue to do business as usual at Warren Haven,” said Smith, who ousted longtime Freeholder Everett Chamberlain in the June primary.

Sarnoski said the board will focus on “responsible solutions” for Warren Haven that will protect both the care of the residents at the home as well as county taxpayers.

Sarnoski said 2013 will bring the opening of the long-anticipated county library headquarters/human services building project. Sarnoski said the project’s final cost is coming in significantly less than originally projected and will save the county money going forward by “getting the county out of costly leases.” Sarnoski noted that this project is being done with no bonding by the county.

“The next year will be challenging, yet I do enter the year with a lot of optimism,” said Sarnoski, who is entering the final year of his first term as a freeholder.

Sarnoski and Smith both discussed their plans to approve a resolution during 2013 that would require voter approval of Warren County bonding measures.

Longtime Freeholder Rick Gardner called for an emphasis being placed on growing business in the county, which he said is being hindered by “excessive red tape” in various state laws that make it too expensive to do business in New Jersey.

As an executive officer on the New Jersey Association of Counties, Gardner said a focus is being placed on having the state overhaul laws that are preventing counties like Warren from building property tax revenues through new business.

Also taking the oath of office during Tuesday’s meeting was Patricia Kolb, who was re-elected as Warren County Clerk.

The Freeholders also voted on various appointments, which included the re-appointment of longtime County Counsel Joseph Bell.