History was made on Jan. 6 when the Burlington County Board of County Commissioners organized for 2021 and used their new of commissioner titles for the first time since a new law took effect switching the board’s name and titles.
“While the name of our title has changed, our responsibilities have not. As the Burlington County Board of County Commissioners, we represent you. Our mission is to deliver responsible government for all 450,000 people who call Burlington County home,” Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson said following her unanimous selection as the board’s director for 2021, according to a statement provided by the board.
“Responsible government means being good stewards with tax dollars. And I am incredibly proud of the job we’ve done managing our county finances and making sure we don’t overburden our taxpayers. But I’m even prouder that we succeeded in doing that while still responding to our residents’ needs, especially with all the challenges we faced from COVID-19,” she said.
Hopson also served as board director in 2020, making her the last freeholder director in the county’s history, and the first commissioner director.
During the organizational meeting, Commissioner Dan O’Connell was selected to serve as the board’s deputy director, and Commissioners Tom Pullion and Balvir Singh were sworn in for new terms on the five-member governing body.
Assemblyman Herb Conaway administered the oath to Pullion and Congressman Andy Kim administered the oath to Singh. New Jersey Senator Troy Singleton swore in both Hopson and O’Connell to their leadership posts.
New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also participated in the virtual meeting, delivering a pre-recorded message that marked the start of a new year and the switch to the board’s new title.
“Today the hard work of governing is renewed, and I know Burlington County will continue to be in good hands,” Murphy said in his message. “The beginning of a new year is the opportunity to set our sights on the future and leave behind the mistakes of the past. And in that spirit, it feels good to use the title ‘commissioner’, just as it does to see the diversity of our state reflected across public offices everywhere.”
2020 accomplishments and 2021 plans
During her organizational meeting address, Hopson highlighted several of the board’s 2020 accomplishments and 2021 initiatives, including the county’s continuing COVID-19 response.
Burlington County was one of the first counties to launch a COVID-19 testing program and has tested more than 30,000 people since the program launched in March. The county has also distributed more than 2 million items of personal protective equipment to first responders, municipal governments and long-term care facilities and given out thousands of boxes of groceries to food-insecure families, according to the statement.
To aid vulnerable populations, the county created a Housing Hub and a Recovery Center at the Burlington County Human Services Building. The Hub provides a single location for residents experiencing housing problems to come for services and the Recovery Center provides a similar one-stop shop for residents in recovery from substance use disorder.
The county also created a new zero-interest HELP loans to assist small businesses and the Board also revived its Shop Burlington County First initiative to promote local stores, restaurants and service providers. Hopson said both initiatives will continue in 2021 and the county is also exploring ways to expand its small business help, according to the statement.
Some of the other major accomplishments cited by the director included the creation of a Minority and Equality Rights Task Force and the opening of Willingboro Lakes, the county’s newest park.
Among the planned initiatives for 2021 are the ongoing ramp-up of the COVID-19 vaccination program, and the expansion of the county’s available rental assistance. Hopson also announced plans for her to continue a listening tour in the county and for the county to hold a 2021 Restaurant Week and Winter Holidays in July promotions for small businesses, according to the statement.
“This is what responsible government is. It is more than just watching the bottom line,” Hopson said in the statement. “It means showing compassion and empathy for the struggles our residents face every day and finding ways to help them overcome their challenges.”