As we prepare to usher in 2020, the Freeholder Board is as excited as ever for what we have planned in the New Year. Our commitment continues to be the betterment of the lives of our residents, and we are working diligently to identify new and innovative ways to improve our communities.
In order to be successful, we will have to build off the accomplishments and successes we achieved this year. Thankfully, 2019 was packed full of major developments, improvements, and milestones to build off of.
In January, Camden County College became one of 13 community colleges in New Jersey where qualifying students could apply for a tuition-free education. By eliminating cost as a barrier for lower-income students, we are able to expand college access and affordability for all, while also working to prevent additional student debt from burdening the future of our community.
Come March, the Camden County Municipal Utilities Authority (CCMUA) fulfilled a promise nearly two decades in the making and officially opened Gateway Park along Admiral Wilson Boulevard. Gateway Park was originally cleared of shuttered businesses in 2000 by the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) with the purpose of being transformed into a park welcoming visitors to the City of Camden.
Now a lush green space, the park has been completely remediated of environmental concerns and is ready for future development. CCMUA is currently partnering with the New Jersey Conservation Foundation (NJCF) to manage the park and land.
Inside of the City, 2019 was a milestone year in more ways than ever. For the first time in five decades, officials gathered along the waterfront to break ground on a new hotel, a Hilton Garden Inn, that will bring 180 new rooms for visitors to the city. The hotel is currently under construction and is planned to open in October 2020.
Throughout Camden, progressive policies aimed at bettering the lives of residents showed signs of tremendous progress. In April, the City experienced its lowest monthly-unemployment rate in at least 30 years (6.6%). The City is currently on pace for its best year of employment on record from the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Meanwhile, the Camden County Police Department, which swore in 52 new officers just a few weeks ago, welcomed a new Chief of Police, Joseph Wysocki, and continued to serve as a national role model in community policing. The City maintained recent trends with cratering rates of homicides and violent crimes compared to the start of the decade.
I gathered in the city on June 8 with community members and partners like Moms Demand Action for the 5th Annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day. We saw hundreds of supporters rally with us to demand an end to gun violence and to raise awareness about the devastating toll this epidemic has had on communities like ours. Together we are committed to creating a safer future for our children.
Elsewhere, in September, we recognized the 50th Anniversary of the Vietnam War with a weeklong commemorative event. The program brought the American Traveling Tribute Wall to Veteran’s Island at Cooper River Park and allowed us to give hundreds of Camden County veterans the proper Welcome Home that they were so wrongfully denied when they first returned from duty.
Throughout the year, the Freeholder Board continued to apply a broad array of tactics to combat the opioid epidemic gripping our communities. In October, the Board extended one of our most promising initiatives, Project SAVE. The program seeks to address the opioid crisis and reduce addiction-related recidivism by shifting the focus of police efforts and practices beyond the initial arrest to intervention.
By partnering with 34 of Camden County’s 37 municipalities, and by putting professional drug and alcohol counselors in their respective municipal courts, we were able to refer over 400 low-level offenders for treatment in the past year. We have extended the program an additional three years and hope to see continued reductions in recidivism and overdoses rates.
This barely touches on the list of major projects undertaken in the past year, and we look forward to hearing from you about what projects had an impact on your community and how we can continue to serve the residents of Camden County in 2020.
Louis Cappelli Jr. has served as Freeholder Director for the Camden County Board of Freeholders since 2006 and is a partner at the law firm Florio, Perrucci, Steinhardt & Cappelli, LLC. He has helped to spur economic development in Camden County, as well as fought to protect the lives of county residents as a champion in the battle against the opioid epidemic.