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COURT HOUSE - The Herald asked Republican incumbent Leonard Desiderio, who is running unopposed for a three-year seat on the Cape May County Board of County Commissioners, to share information about his candidacy and respond to specific questions of broad interest to Cape May County. 

His responses are below.

Top Issues

What do you believe are the top two issues facing Cape May County? How do you plan to address these issues as a commissioner? By what timeline will you address them?

Certainly, dealing with the continuing impacts of Covid is an almost all-encompassing issue we face as a county, which covers question two below, as well. 

Every person in Cape May County has been impacted, especially those who have lost loved ones. The Board of Commissioners worked very hard in spring 2020 to present a plan for reopening and mitigation protocols to the governor. 

I am proud to be a co-chair of the Cape May County Recovery Initiative and Business Recovery Task Force. The county has made, and continues to make, a significant investment in our “Safely Together” messaging campaign. We produced signs, posters, online posts, radio ad and television ads that drove the “Safely Together” message. We grew that into similar advertising encouraging our residents to get vaccinated.  

We are proud that we have one of the highest vaccination rates in the State of New Jersey. At the same time, we committed relief funding to a program to supply small loans to businesses and individuals to help them get through these difficult times. 

We continue to invest in our vaccine messaging and our Department of Health continues to administer the vaccine and perform Covid testing. Hopefully, we can all put Covid behind us soon, but until that time, we will do what we can to help our businesses and families and encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

Covid

We saw many significant impacts – socio-economic et al. – of the Covid pandemic on Cape May County this past year and staffing shortages this past summer. How do you propose to deal with these impacts? What should we be doing to attract people to come to the county to work and live?

See the response above to question one.

Budgets

Cape May County generates well in excess of $500 million in state sales tax and local use taxes annually. Of such taxes collected in New Jersey, this figure represents over 10% of the statewide total. Relative to the county’s resident population, this is a disproportionate contribution to the state’s coffers. Meanwhile, the county derives a relatively small and declining share of state funds with respect to key programs, including transportation and education. Do you think this constitutes an imbalance of giving and receiving? If so, how do you propose to address and correct this imbalance? If not, why not?

This is a frustration for everyone in Cape May County. We advocate all the time for a greater return of tax money we send to Trenton. Cape May County is not the only area dealing with these issues. It seems like most of South Jersey has the same frustration. 

We utilize the opportunities for communication that exist with the New Jersey Association of Counties and the New Jersey League of Municipalities to drive these concerns and collectively attempt to move the legislative and executive branches in Trenton to engage in a more equitable provision of these tax revenues to help our schools, towns, and county. It has always been an uphill battle, but we continue to push for our fair share.

Environment

We face concerns from the changing climate, including prospects of frequent and severe flooding, decreased potable water, and beach erosion. What is your perception of climate change concerns for Cape May County? How do you envision addressing these concerns?

Much of climate change policy is driven by Trenton, but the Board of Commissioners has participated in a number of climate policy discussions advanced by the New Jersey Association of Counties. 

We have helped to adopt floodplain and flood mitigation strategies and apply these concepts to new road and building construction. Even if the effects of climate change are much less severe than the worst-case scenarios, it is still important that all of the communities of the Cape May peninsula work together to be prepared for potential impacts. 

We have upgraded our Office of Emergency Management facilities and enhanced coordination between the county and local communities to better deal with potential severe weather threats.

Transportation Infrastructure

Modern bridges and roads within, and to and from, our county impact our economy and safety. In 2018, during your campaign, you advocated for updating our antiquated bridges. What have you done in that regard and what are your plans going forward in light of many of our bridges approaching 75 years of age?

The County Commissioners recently adopted a Comprehensive Bridge Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Plan. This was several years in the making and includes plans for the rehabilitation or reconstruction of many county bridges over the next decade. 

The first aspects of this plan are underway with requests for bids for major repairs to several bridges expected to be published over the next couple of years. The county, several years ago, created a dedicated fund for this plan that now amounts to several million dollars, which will help to finance the long-term plan. 

We are also working with the state and federal governments to obtain grant funding to offset the cost to Cape May County taxpayers and expect those partnerships to be very beneficial for the realization of the bridge plan.

Opioid Crisis

During your last campaign, in 2018, you indicated your desire to address the opioid crisis in the county. What have you done to combat this epidemic in light of the increasing number of deaths by drugs (43 suspected overdose deaths in 2018; 59 in 2019; 63 in 2020 and 25 through June 30, 2021)?

The Cape May County Sheriff’s Department has partnered with the Recovery Court, as well as the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office, to make services more available to residents struggling with addiction and to advance the mission of the Recovery Court.  

Progress, although not enough, was being made when Covid hit. The pandemic, especially the lockdowns, had a devastating effect on those seeking treatment and in need of support in their battles against addiction.  

This is a national crisis with no easy solution, but we will continue our efforts to help with education about the availability of services and working with the courts and the prosecutor to advance humane approaches to helping the addicted make it through to sober and productive lives.

Nepotism

Over the past couple of years, several events highlighted relationships with family and friends among government officials and staff. At the time, commissioners said this issue would be looked at, especially in terms of other New Jersey towns that adopted anti-nepotism regulations. What specifically have you done to address this concern? Do you perceive such relationships to be a problem? If reelected, would you seek to establish regulations to address this issue? Would you back regulations other New Jersey towns implemented?

We live in a small community where people know each other. 

It is impossible to avoid relationships in all situations and some of the criticism has been personal or politically driven. 

The county has always sought to hire qualified, local people. If there is a conflict for an elected official, there is appropriate legal guidance on how to handle that, and the County, like our local elected officials, follows those requirements.

Why You?

Why should voters reelect you to the Board of County Commissioners?

I believe that my record as an elected official demonstrates that I am in public service for all the right reasons. I run for office because I was raised by parents who believed they had an obligation to serve. 

My interest is in serving the people of Cape May County. Working to keep taxes low. Working to have a safe and prosperous community. 

I have relationships with people of all backgrounds and political stripes, and I think that is something that is becoming too rare in public life. 

My goal is always to find ways to work together to get things done. That is how I have always approached elected office and that is how I always will.

To contact Karen Knight, email kknight@cmcherald.com.

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