FLEMINGTON, NJ – The Hunterdon County Freeholder board held its annual reorganization meeting yesterday, swearing in a new Freeholder and a new director.
Shaun Van Doren was sworn to the board, noting that perhaps “the third time is a charm,” because he’d twice run for the office before winning election in November.
His mom, Barbara Van Doren, held the Bible as he was sworn, even though Van Doren noted that she doesn’t really care for politics, and that his late father John “liked it even less than she.”
County Clerk Mary Melfi quipped that the Bible used for the ceremonies was “older than many of the records in my office.”
Van Doren, whose day job is as a safety and the environment department with Merck & Co., called politics his “second career.” He said that after 21 years on the Tewksbury Township Committee, he’s learned “that the key to public service is people, not politics.”
The newly-formed board voted Matt Holt Freeholder Director and Suzanne Lagay as Deputy Director.
Holt agreed that the “third time can be the charm,” because this year will be third time he’s served as Freeholder Director.
In a passionate presentation, Holt cited the need for economic development as critical to the county’s future.
Clinton, Clinton Township and the county are now working together to look at ordinances, Holt said, some of which “were written in the 40s, 50s and 60s ... we need to be planning for the future of this county.”
The goal is to look at “what works, what doesn’t work, and let’s see how to rewrite what we need to fit the needs to protect this county moving forward,” Holt said. It isn’t government’s role to create jobs, he said, but to “ensure that jobs can be created, and that we take obstacles out of the way.”
Holt said that when the partnership has finished its work, the county’s other 24 municipalities can examine the result and ask, “Does any of this make sense for us?”
Over the last 50 years, Holt said the county has gone from about 3.25 people per household and an average age of 32 to 2.5 people per household and an average age of 45.
“And we’re going to be at 50 years old as an average county age in the next 10 years, mark my words, unless we do something about it,” Holt said. That would be an indication of a society that “can’t regenerate itself,” he said, “A declining society. What a shame for Hunterdon.”
He credited the county Division of Economic Development with doing “amazing things” to help turn the tide.
Rep. Leonard Lance said “we do have to worry” about Hunterdon’s declining and aging population. “We want to be a welcoming county to the young, those who can further our society in the future.” Lance said, “And certainly I pledge to work with this Freeholder board in that regard.”
Lance praised the board’s fiscal responsibility and called Hunterdon “one of the very few counties in the United States without any debt.”