Ocean County freeholders pledged Wednesday to continue to deliver the most services at the lowest cost to residents while selecting new leadership for 2012.
was unanimously selected to serve as freeholder director, and John C. Bartlett was named deputy director at the board's annual reorganization meeting, held in the county . Longtime Freeholder Joseph Vicari, who served as director in 2011, moved down the dais after being .
Little and Bartlett praised Vicari's leadership in front of a standing-room-only crowd filled with municipal and county officials as well as Congressmen Christopher Smith and Jon Runyan. The new leaders promised to maintain Ocean's AAA bond rating while serving the county's diverse population.
"The fundamental benchmark of this board continues to be anchored by our conservative fiscal approach to county government," said Little, a Surf City resident. "Ocean County will continue to live within its means. We will balance our budget, and we will meet the state's 2 percent budget cap."
All speakers referenced troubled economic times in their remarks, but the freeholders said they will pursue multiple priorities while remaining fiscally sound.
"We're proud to continue to deliver the services to the people of Ocean County and to do so in a fiscally responsible manner," said Freeholder John P. Kelly.
Little, who has previously served as director and deputy director, boasted of the nearly 13,000 acres of land preserved under the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund and promised to "continue to preserve environmentally sensitive lands" as well as cooperate with the state on Gov. Chris Christie's to protect Barnegat Bay.
The nine-year freeholder also promised to serve the county's neediest residents, with continued support for the Board of Social Services, Department of Human Services and Board of Health, as well as the county's roughly 60,000 veterans and 160,000 senior citizens.
"Our goal is to preserve the vital services to the people of Ocean County," said Vicari, the Berkeley Township schools superintendent.
People have 'elected stability'
With Vicari's re-election, the five-member freeholder board remains stable for the ninth straight year. That continuity was cited by multiple speakers as one of Ocean's keys to success.
"The people of this county have elected stability, and that's what they receive," said Bartlett, a Pine Beach resident who has been in office 33 years.
Congressman Smith agreed. "People recognize the quality of work that you do," he said. "This is a freeholder board of excellence."
Freeholders said they operate in a spirit of cooperation that utilizes their collective experience spanning more than 100 years.
Little, who served as director in 2006 and deputy in 2011 and 2009, has extensive experience in government, including a council stint in Surf City and tenure on the Long Beach Township Board of Commissioners. He served as chief of staff for the 9th Legislative District from 1984 until his retirement in 2003. Little, a former Marine, also served on the Ocean County Planning Board and county Natural Lands Trust Fund Advisory Council.
As a freeholder, Little has chaired Human Services and worked as the liaison to departments including Veterans Services, Social Services and more.
Bartlett, the chairman of the Departments of Finance and Parks and Recreation, is a former Pine Beach mayor and councilman as well as an ex-teacher at . He served as director of the freeholder board five times previously and was deputy director twice.
Vicari, the chairman of the Ocean County Office of Senior Services, is a former Dover Township committeeman and mayor as well as a lifelong educator. He has served as liaison to the Ocean County Library system, the Vo-Tech schools, the Ocean County Airpark and more.
"The greatest opportunity I've had is working with my colleagues on this Board of Chosen Freeholders," Vicari said.
The feeling is mutual.
"I couldn't have someone better to work with than Joe (Vicari)," Bartlett said.
Before adjourning to a reception at the Holiday Inn, the new freeholder director said the longtime colleagues are ready for whatever 2012 may bring.
"Every year brings a new set of challenges, and this board is ready to meet those challenges," Little said. "Our commitment remains providing affordable government services for Ocean County taxpayers. With this approach, Ocean County will continue to be that great place to live, work, raise a family and retire."