Candidates agree on need for infrastructure work

SPARTA. Five Republicans are running for two seats on the Sussex County Board of County Commissioners in the June 4 primary.

| 21 May 2024 | 05:07

The five Republicans running for two seats on the Sussex County Board of County Commissioners in the June 4 primary answered questions on a number of topics - from infrastructure needs to school funding - on Thursday, May 16.

The candidates forum, hosted by Straus News, was held at the Sussex County Technical School.

Robert Kovic, a Sparta lawyer, pointed out that the county tax levy has climbed above $100 million. “That is creating a big problem all across the board for businesses, for homes, for farmers, for seniors - it touches everybody. We have to address that.”

Harvey Roseff, a member of the Byram Township Council since 2018, said the county needs to fix bridges and roads and needs to push Jersey Central Power & Light to provide reliable electric service.

He recalled meeting with phone and natural gas companies at the state Board of Public Utilities after he joined the Byram Township Council. “We now today have natural gas coming into Byram. And we improved our internet service tremendously.”

Chris Carney, who is seeking re-election to a second term, said he has been working for the past three years to improve the county’s infrastructure but inflation is making that difficult. “No one wants to see their taxes go up so it’s easier said than done.”

Previous boards of commissioners cut the budget “and weren’t always paying attention to our infrastructure.” The current board has changed its outlook on what’s important, he said.

”Because what it comes down to is what you see if what you get. And what people see is our roads, our bridges, plowing our roads, making sure they’re safe for us to get home, to work, to our kids’ schools ... .”

In response to criticism about unreliable power and internet service, Carney said, “JCP&L has come. They are going to upgrade the grid. We’re working on that stuff.”

He also has been working to bring broadband to the county, he said. “This is what I have been doing for three years. This is why I need three more years to continue the things I have been doing.”

Alan Henderson, a former police officer, called the 911 system “crucial to saving somebody’s life.” “To be on some of our county back roads and not have cell phone coverage to call in an emergency situation in 2024 is insane in my opinion.”

Good phone and internet service is essential to people working from home as well, he pointed out. “At my home in Lafayette, if my wife is on her cell phone, our Ring camera won’t even work at the house.”

Business and taxes

Last year, when Carney was director of the commissioners board, he set up meetings with mayors of Sussex County towns “to create shared services and save money for the taxpayer.”

Henderson pointed to his 11 years as a member of the Lafayette Township Committee. “I’ve done budgets. I’ve tried to save taxes. We’ve done a great job in Lafayette.”

Kovic emphasized the need to create “a stable business climate and a stable financial climate so that people can actually survive and not be leaving Sussex County, so businesses can take the risk of opening in Sussex County.”

”We have more vacant commercial space than ever because businesses do not want to invest here.”

Earl Schick, who owns a store in Byram, said he also wants to bring more small businesses to the county. The narrow roads in Sussex County mean that traffic backs up “and I’ve seen people turn around in front of the store and leave Sussex County.”

Several candidates were optimistic about a project under way to bring train service to Andover.

But Roseff said there will be less demand for commuter transportation to New York City because more people are working from home.

Use of ARPA funds

The candidates were asked about the commissioners board’s use of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was meant to help the country recovered from the coronavirus pandemic, during the past few years.

”I think in general the funding ... should have been more focused. You can’t just keep spreading it around and see big benefits,” Roseff said.

Schick, who replaced Dawn Fantasia on the commissioners board in February, pointed out that ARPA funds kept alive some county programs and services.

The county now has grant writers working to find money that would replace the ARPA funds in the future, he said. “We’re also consolidating. We’re doing some shared services. We have reduced some of our workforce to cut income - we’re doing everything we can, all hands on deck, to make that work in 2025.”

Carney noted that slightly more than $2 million in ARPA funds was used to provide $15,000 grants to small businesses that were struggling during the pandemic as well as to first-responders.

”We also spent a lot of money on infrastructure, new equipment for our DPW (Department of Public Works), which long-term when that is not there, that ARPA money, at least we’re set up for the future with our new equipment, with our new machines for the DPW so we are ahead of the game.”

Some ARPA money also went to repair or replace some of the 64 county buildings, he added.

Henderson said Lafayette used its ARPA funds to buy a firetruck.

He refused to criticize how the commissioners spent the federal funds but said future commissioners need to maintain the equipment and vehicles that were purchased.

Kovic said the county needs a plan for spending in the future. “The answer to every problem cannot be squeeze more money out of the taxpayer. That’s not something that I’m prepared to do.”

To watch the candidates forum, go online to