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07 Aug
0

LD10 Legislators Renew Call for Rental Tax Relief

Legislation that would relieve the costly consequences of a tax on short-term rentals that was imposed by Governor Phil Murphy last year continues to sit on the governor’s desk while evidence of the tax’s damage to the Jersey Shore economy mounts.

Senator Jim Holzapfel and Assemblymen Greg McGuckin and Dave Wolfe (all R-Ocean) say they are frustrated by the delay and are calling on the Murphy administration to enact the bill before it’s too late for the summer season.

Rental Tax Relief

Holzapfel, McGuckin & Wolfe call for Gov. Murphy to sign legislation that would relieve the costly consequences of a tax on short-term rentals that he imposed last year. (Bing Maps)

“The legislature has done our job to rework portions of the tax that are unfair to Shore homeowners,” said Holzapfel. “The governor’s inaction is troubling and irresponsible. While he vacations at his villa in Italy, rentals are going unoccupied and business is feeling the impact. We need this bill signed now.”

The measure (S-3158/A-4814) was passed unanimously by the Senate and Assembly and has been parked on the governor’s desk since June 27. It exempts homeowners who rent directly to vacationers from last year’s so-called Airbnb tax which extended the 6.625 percent sales tax and the 5 percent hotel and motel occupancy fee to private rentals of less than 90 days.

A newspaper report published today confirms the law’s severe impact on the Shore season. According to the Inquirer, homeowners are having a difficult time finding renters and revenue is down by as much as 20 percent.

“We were worried about what this tax would do to the Shore communities, and the reality is as bad as we feared or worse,” said McGuckin. “Unheard of numbers of rental units are sitting vacant in prime vacation weeks, and owners are being forced to make deep discounts to fill openings. It’s not just homeowners who are feeling the pinch. The seasonal businesses that rely on the summer months to get them through the year are paying the price, too.”

“There’s still a few weeks of the vacation season remaining,” said Wolfe. “Summer tourism is too important to New Jersey’s economy for the governor to continue to ignore this important piece of legislation. He needs to step up and sign the bill now.”

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17 Jun
0

Ocean County Tax Rate Going Down

TOMS RIVER – The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders unveiled a “no surprise” budget that comes with a modest reduction in the county property tax rate, increased funding for Ocean County College and the vocational-technical schools, and appropriations to cover the county’s core services and programs.

“As we continue to see a moderate increase in our ratable base, we are keeping with our pledge to lower the county property tax rate in reasonable annual increments so we can provide good quality government services and keep Ocean County affordable,” said Ocean County Freeholder John P. Kelly, in presenting the budget measure to the Board. “This is a ‘no surprise’ budget.”

The proposed 2019 budget, which will be formally introduced by the Board at its 4 p.m., Feb. 20 meeting, totals $431,967,163 and the amount to be raised by taxation is $353,049,175, an increase of 1.89 percent, which is under the 2 percent state mandated spending cap.

“This year, we will be reducing the County property tax rate by another half-cent bringing the rate down to a little more than 34 cents per $100 of equalized property value,” Kelly said. “This is the direction we will continue to follow – as our ratables rise, we will gradually reduce the tax rate.”

Ocean County’s ratable base began to drop dramatically after 2009, when the economy took a downturn, coupled with Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the value of the properties in Ocean County plummeted by about $20 billion. 

“We are seeing this loss diminish which is allowing us to lower the tax rate and keep County government on the well-disciplined, fiscally conservative course our residents and taxpayers expect from us,” Kelly said.

Property values for 2019 increased by $3.4 billion to $103.2 billion. However the ratable base remains $6 billion below the 2009 ratable base of almost $110 billion – the county’s highest.

Freeholder Director Virginia E. Haines said the proposed budget covers the many key services provided by the Board and provides continued stability in county government.

“This is the County’s budget and everyone on this Board participates in it,” she said. “This document is the blueprint for 2019 and our future.”

Prior to presenting the budget numbers to his colleagues on the Board, Kelly remembered the late Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., who served as the County’s budget architect for close to four decades.

“As we present the 2019 Ocean County budget, I want to take a moment and first recognize the nearly four decades of our friend and colleague Freeholder Bartlett’s contributions to producing county budgets that highlighted our work to maintain fiscal stability in our county government,” Kelly said. “With John, the budget was the collective work of all of us on this Board, along with the staff. We always worked with him as a team in developing sound and disciplined financial policies that resulted in budgets that put the taxpayer first.” 

Kelly said the proposed 2019 budget, in addition to funding all of the core services and providing a modest decrease in the property tax rate, also maintains a healthy surplus and allows the Board to keep its AAA bond rating.

“And, as always, it prepares us for the future,” he said. 

Kelly said the budget includes increased levels of funding for Ocean County College and the Ocean County Vocational Technical Schools. The college will receive $15.7 million, up $454,418 and the vocational technical schools will receive $19 million, an increase of $372,768.

“Education is a priority for this Board,” Kelly said. 

The budget also includes a $9.3 million “pay as you grow” appropriation.

“This allows us to pay cash for some capital projects and purchases in 2019,” Kelly said. “A benefit of this includes not having to bond, allowing us to continue to decrease our total debt.”

The proposed budget also appropriates about $25 million for maintaining and improving county roads and bridges.

“This budget makes sure that we continue to improve our roads and bridges as well as maintaining them so they will be safe for everyone to use.” Kelly said.

The budget also provides a combined $75 million in funding for county departments that oversee law and public safety.

“In the area of law and public safety, we are providing the funds to help fight the opioid epidemic that continues to grip our County,” said Kelly, who serves as Director of Law and Public Safety. “Our Prosecutor’s Office, our Sheriff’s Department, our Correction’s Department and Juvenile Services are all involved in addressing this very difficult and prevalent situation.”

Kelly noted that with this budget, the County also is completing upgrades to its emergency communication systems with new cell towers and moving to 700 MHZ radios to improve communications for emergency responders.

“This budget also makes certain our most vulnerable residents are provided for, with social services and other programs to assist them,” Kelly said.

Freeholder Gerry P. Little said the budget as proposed was fiscally responsible.

“While the demand for services is tremendous, we have been able to balance these demands and also lower the tax rate,” he said.

Freeholder Gary Quinn emphasized the importance of lowering the tax rate.

“Reducing the taxes is a product of sound financial policies,” he said.

Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as liaison to Senior Services said the budget meets the needs of the growing population of seniors especially with the additional $100,000 for the senior nutrition program.

Kelly said the budget is the result of numerous meetings with department heads, senior staff, and the Board.

“Its together that we work as one in producing a budget that is fiscally responsible, that is conservative and disciplined and that meets the needs of our county residents,” Kelly said.

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21 May
0

From the Desk of Chairman Frank Holman

I would like to start by thanking the county committee members for giving me the opportunity to serve as Chairman of the Ocean County Republican Organization. I would also like to thank Vice-Chairwoman Lanuto for the excellent job she did during the transition period in which she served as Acting-Chair.

 

(more…)

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14 Mar
0

Ocean County GOP Endorses Candidates for the 2019 Primary Election

via app.com

TOMS RIVER – Former Brick Councilman John Catalano is the Ocean County Republican Party’s choice to succeed state Assemblyman David W. Wolfe in the 10th Legislative District.

Catalano, 69, won the endorsement by unanimous acclamation at the GOP’s nominating convention Wednesday night. There was no opposition. That means Catalano has the party’s official line in the June 4 Republican primary — which he must win to be on the Nov. 5 ballot as the party’s nominee.

 The Ocean County Republican Party holds its nominating convention at the Days Hotel by Wyndham in Toms River. Brick Councilman John Catalano, center, waits to hear if he will receive the endorsement for state Assembly in the 10th Legislative District. Toms River, NJ Wednesday, March 13, 2019
The Ocean County Republican Party holds its nominating convention at the Days Hotel by Wyndham in Toms River. Brick Councilman John Catalano, center, waits to hear if he will receive the endorsement for state Assembly in the 10th Legislative District. Toms River, NJ Wednesday, March 13, 2019  (Photo: Doug Hood )

“I’m tired of yelling at my TV, yelling at my radio and the perfect opportunity happened now with our terrific Assemblyman Dave Wolfe retiring, that I could jump in and do a little for our district and the people of New Jersey,” Catalano said in his public remarks after he received the endorsement.

Catalano was first chosen by the Ocean County Republican Party’s screening committee last month from a field of seven candidates who were vetted before the panel of senior GOP officeholders.

“I’ve always been a giver, and this is my time when I’d like to do as much as I can to give back to the 10th District, Ocean County and the people of New Jersey,” he said. “So, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and onto November.”

In addition to Catalano, the screening committee had interviewed Point Pleasant Beach Mayor Stephen Reid, 54, Pinelands Commissioner D’Arcy Green, 59, of Mantoloking, Toms River Councilman Dan Rodrick, 43, Lakehurst Councilman Jim Davis, 63, former Brick Councilwoman Ruthanne Scaturro, 67, and Samantha DeAlmeida, 29, of Brick, who is the New Jersey government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network New Jersey and a former researcher for the state Assembly.

Check out the video on app.com to see the moment when John Catalano secured the endorsement of the Ocean County Republican Party.

The endorsement was always expected to go to a Republican from Brick. With a population of 76,000, Brick is the second-largest town in the 10th District and Wolfe is the only lawmaker in the Legislature from Brick. Toms River, the largest town in the district with a population of more than 93,000, has two representatives in the Legislature.

Moreover, because of the size of Brick’s voting bloc, its Republican delegation wields significant influence in the county GOP organization despite the fact that Democrats control the municipal government.

The other top contenders for the endorsement included Scaturro and DeAlmeida.

The 10th District includes Bay Head, Brick, Island Heights, Lakehurst, Lavallette, Manchester, Mantoloking, Point Pleasant Beach, Seaside Heights and Toms River. From that district, Wolfe serves alongside fellow Republicans state Sen. Jim Holzapfel and Assemblyman Gregory P. McGuckin, both of Toms River.

 In addition to the much-publicized contest surrounding Wolfe’s would-be successor, the county GOP Wednesday night endorsed Freeholders Virginia E. Haines and Jack Kelly for re-election, as well as Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy on the countywide ticket. The committee also endorsed Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove and Brian E. Rumpf in the 9th District and McGuckin in the 10th District; Assemblymen Ronald S. Dancer and Robert D. Clifton in the 12th District; and Assemblymen Sean T. Kean and Edward H. Thomson in the 30th District.

In January, Wolfe, 76, of Brick, announced that he would not seek re-election this year after what will be 28 years in the Assembly when he retires from public life in January 2020.

The Ocean County Democratic Party is scheduled to meet on March 23 to endorse its candidates for state and county offices. However, Wyatt Earp, its chairman, banned reporters from his party’s nominating convention in 2017 over claims of negative media coverage in the past.

This is a developing story. Stay with app.com for updates.

Erik Larsen: 732-682-9359 or elarsen@gannettnj.com

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08 Mar
0

Ocean County Freeholders Preserve Almost 8,000 Acres

TOMS RIVER – It’s official. The acquisition of Ocean County’s largest open space purchase since the county’s open space program first began in 1997 is complete.

“I am pleased to announce that we closed this week on the purchase of the almost 8,000 acre tract in Lacey and Ocean Townships that is home of the Forked River Mountains,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Virginia E. Haines, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund. “This is not only our largest tract to acquire under this program but also one of the most environmentally sensitive purchases we have made under our open space program.”

The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders approved the purchase at its Sept. 19, 2018 meeting at the recommendation of the Ocean County Natural Lands Trust Fund Advisory Committee.

“This environmental gem will now be preserved in its natural state forever,” Haines said.

The 7,923-acre tract, which straddles Lacey and Ocean townships and is surrounded by publicly owned land, was purchased for $15,450,000, which is covered by revenues from the county’s dedicated open space tax. The property was purchased from Castleton Associates LLC, formerly the Brunetti Corporation of Old Bridge Township.

The site was identified by the Trust for Public Lands in their “Century Plan” and the 7,923 acre piece is the last significant tract left of the 21,000 acre Forked River Mountains Century Plan Site.

“The property is in a very environmentally sensitive and unique area of the County,” Haines said. “It is surrounded by thousands of acres of State, County and nonprofit preserved lands.

“It meets the many requirements of our open space program and insures this property will never be considered for anything but open space,” she said. “This purchase protects our watershed, it protects our endangered species. Its benefits are numerous.”

The property includes frontage on both sides of Lacey Road in Lacey Township and has access from old sand roads in both Lacey and Ocean townships.

Haines noted the County is reviewing opportunities that would create funding partnerships to help offset some of the acquisition costs.

Due to the large nature of this acquisition, Ocean County will seek public funding partnerships including with the Department of Defense and state Green Acres.

“In addition to protecting all the resources here, the property also provides opportunity for nature lovers to enjoy bird watching and nature walks, which also is important,” Haines said.

Residents and visitors are known to enjoy the beauty offered by the Forked River Mountains, a set of hills near the Forked River.

“There are two mounts, side by side, with the western ridge at an elevation of 184 feet and the eastern ridge attaining 176 feet,” according to the TPL’s Century Plan. “While most northern New Jersey residents may laugh at such low elevations, here in the Pine Barrens such heights truly represent ‘mountains.’ ”

The “mountains” are referred to as the apex of the site.

The mountains are called a place of pure beauty, mystery, legend and history.

“On a clear day, from this site you can also see historic Navy Lakehurst’s Hangar One on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst and the lighthouse at Barnegat Light,” Haines said.

Beautiful clear streams such as headwaters of the Oswego River, the Factory Branch, the North, Middle and South branches of the Forked River, Oyster Creek, Cave Cabin Branch, Long Branch, Dennis Branch and Cold Branch flow through the region. There are also miles of pine oak and pitch pine lowland forests. The pristine landscape provides an array of habitat types for many rare, threatened and endangered plant and wildlife species.

A portion of the old Tuckerton Railroad line, which is currently owned by JCP&L, also runs through the property.

“The entire Board of Freeholders is pleased we were able to place the last tract of the 21,000 acres into public ownership, protecting it forever,” Haines said.

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10 Jan
0

Connors, Rumpf & Gove Start Online Petition Opposing Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Aliens

Senator Christopher J. Connors, Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove have started an online petition in opposition to providing driver’s licenses to illegal aliens in New Jersey.

Concerned citizens can sign the petition online by visiting: www.senatenj.com/sanctuarystate/.

Connors, Rumpf & Gove have started an online petition opposing Gov. Phil Murphy’s efforts to turn New Jersey into a sanctuary state and provide driver’s licenses to illegal aliens. (Wikimedia Commons)

The petition was launched to counter the passage of pending legislation (S-3229/A-4743) that would allow the State to issue driver’s licenses to persons who are “unable to prove lawful presence in the United States.” The legislation is part of Governor Phil Murphy’s effort to turn New Jersey into a sanctuary state.

The 9th District legislators issued the following statement:

“Along with the benefits that New Jersey already has in place for illegal aliens, including free in-state college tuition, allowing them to obtain driver’s licenses will firmly establish New Jersey as a sanctuary state. It’s not surprising in the least that this proposal has drawn outrage from across our legislative district.

“Our new online petition will give New Jersey residents a stronger voice on this issue while demonstrating to Trenton the level of intense opposition to rewarding persons who are in our country illegally at the expense of taxpaying citizens.

“Think of how absurd the state’s immigration policies are right now. Residents’ federal tax dollars are being used to fund ICE to crack down on illegal immigration while at the same time their state tax dollars are being used to pay the legal costs of illegal aliens facing deportation.

“This is to say nothing of the glaring hypocrisy by Trenton when it comes to enforcing the law. When it comes to homeowners and businesses, the overregulating State bureaucracy rigidly enforces all laws, codes, regulations and permits but yet not only ignores, but rewards, illegal aliens for breaking the law with taxpayer-funded entitlements.

“Many seniors went through hell getting their driver’s licenses renewed when the state instituted the 6-Point ID system. Service at the MVC has vastly improved since. However, all that progress stands to be erased by the likely chaotic process, including long wait times, that is likely to ensue once illegal aliens start showing up at MVC facilities for driver’s licenses all at once.

“How lenient will the documentation requirements for illegals be? What additional resources will be needed by the MVC to process persons without official documentation and at what cost to taxpayers? Will applicants with criminal records be reported to ICE? Will state policy require MVC staff to have a driver’s license in one hand and voter registration form in the other?

“These are all serious concerns that residents should be strongly considering as the debate on this controversial issue intensifies.”

Click here to sign the petition to tell Governor Murphy that New Jersey shouldn’t give driver’s licenses to illegal aliens.

Source: Connors, Rumpf & Gove Start Online Petition Opposing Driver’s Licenses for Illegal Aliens

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02 Jan
0

OCEAN COUNTY TO PROVIDE ALMOST 300,000 MEALS TO SENIORS

TOMS RIVER – The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders is continuing its pledge to homebound and vulnerable seniors as it approves new contracts for the extensive senior nutrition program during its Dec. 19 meeting.

“In the new year, Ocean County will provide almost 300,000 meals to seniors,” said Ocean County Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as chairman of Senior Services. “Close to 1,100 meals are currently prepared daily and distributed to homebound seniors as well as the eight congregate meal sites located throughout our County.

“We operate one of the largest senior nutrition programs in the state and with the support of the Board of Freeholders we have awarded seven contracts to continue this program into 2019,” Vicari said. “There is no wait list in Ocean County for this program. No senior in Ocean County goes hungry.”
The Board of Freeholders awarded contracts to Community Services Inc., the major meal provider in Ocean County.

The cost of the 2019 congregate meal contract is $782,173, and for home delivered/ weekend/ holiday meals it is $1,797,025. Over 295,000 total meals are projected for delivery in 2019.

As of the end of November, there was a total of 265,428 meals prepared thus far for 2018. Home delivered meals accounted for 236,149 meals delivered to the homebound and 29,279 to congregate sites.

While the meals are currently prepared at the Community Services Inc. kitchen in Lakewood, that will change in the new year once extensive renovations to the Ocean County Southern Service Center, Route 9, in Manahawkin, are completed during the first quarter of 2019.

The work includes reconfiguring the inside of the building to provide 2,000 square feet of additional service area for the county’s senior nutrition program allowing for expanded meal preparation.

“The senior nutrition program serves as a lifeline for many of our elderly residents living alone. It helps them maintain their independence and the volunteers and drivers help provide a daily wellness check for many seniors that can no longer get around on their own,” said Ocean County Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little. “Nutrition support is a key ingredient to good health for older adults.”

Seniors in the county’s congregate nutrition program from Ocean Township south to Little Egg Harbor use the nutrition site at the Southern Service Center. A smaller congregate site has been operating at the Southern Service Center during the work.

“There has been no interruption in this service,” Vicari said. “We look forward to the changes being completed to even better serve our seniors.”

Vicari noted that socialization, recreation, educational programs and health screenings will be offered at the nutrition site.

“These programs provide great benefits for our seniors, especially those who are frail and in need,” Vicari said. “It is less expensive to provide food for one-year for a senior then it is to cover the cost of a day in an emergency room.”

The upgraded facility will include a renovated senior nutrition site that will hold over 200 people. The project includes better storage facilities, expanded administrative space for client services, and more refrigeration.

“When completed, we will see easier and better handling of food from kitchen to delivery truck to patrons,” Vicari said.

The project also includes lowering the ceiling of the facility and the installation of sprinklers – a major safety upgrade.

The lowered ceiling will make acoustics better for older adults and at the same time creates storage space to accommodate shelf stable meals and paper goods.

The shelf meals are distributed in weather emergencies or extended holidays.

Maria LaFace, Director of Senior Services, said the county’s plans will allow for the expansion of the county’s meal production capability in the south along with consolidating staff and resources to the one location.

“At the same time, this project will create a more efficient, centralized operation, with better opportunities for cost control and decreased waste, and create one production location to enhance communication for both staff and consumers,” she said.

In addition to the nutrition contracts, Community Services Inc. was awarded contracts to provide over 30,820 units for support services such as community outreach, benefits counseling, transportation, and general information and assistance at a cost of $484,749.

They will also conduct Chronic Disease Self-Management workshops for 200 individuals specifically targeting those with diabetes at a cost of $40,089 in 2019.

“Ocean County is home to more than 170,000 adults 60 and over,” Vicari said. “And, more than 10,000 baby boomers daily are turning 65. It is important to meet the needs of the frail and the homebound. This is a priority for the freeholders.”

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13 Dec
0

Ocean County Mourns the Loss of Freeholder John Bartlett

Joint Statement from the Ocean County Board of Freeholders

We were advised earlier today that our friend and colleague, Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. passed away following his hard fought battle with cancer. This Board mourns the loss of a special man who dedicated most of his adult life to public service.

Freeholder Bartlett leaves an indelible mark on Ocean County and we are so very sorry that he will no longer be with us to serve our citizens and work with us as a Board.

There are few areas of Ocean County that have not been impacted by Freeholder Bartlett’s work. For 39 years, he has served as a steward of our environment, the architect of the County budget, a champion of Ocean County College and a man truly dedicated to public service. Born and raised in Ocean County, Freeholder Bartlett started his public service in 1974 when he was elected to the Pine Beach Council. A few short years later, he was elected to the Board of Freeholders. He often said that being a Freeholder was the best-elected position you can have doing the most good for your constituents because you always remained close to them.

Freeholder Bartlett took his work on the Board seriously and helped citizens through the most difficult of times like the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Yet he also enjoyed his time on the Board as he talked about his family and his love for gardening and history. Freeholder Bartlett always spoke with great delight about his wife, Peg, his children and his beloved grandchildren. They all became our family too.

John’s passing is a profound and deep loss for all of us on the Board of Freeholders. While he was the longest serving Freeholder in the state of New Jersey, we all had the privilege to call him our longest-serving friend. Saying goodbye is difficult for all of us. With our deepest condolences and sympathy, we keep his family in our thoughts and prayers.

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12 Dec
0

Statement from Chairman Gilmore on the passing of Freeholder Bartlett

Statement from Chairman George Gilmore on the passing of Freeholder John Bartlett:

“On behalf of the Ocean County Republican Organization I would like to extend our deepest sympathies to Peg and the entire Bartlett family. Freeholder Bartlett was more than just a colleague. He was a friend and mentor to many of us. His loss will be felt throughout Ocean County.”

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04 Dec
0

Freeholder Haines to become first woman to lead Ocean County in 40 years

via app.com

TOMS RIVER – Freeholder Virginia E. Haines is poised to become the first woman to lead Ocean County in 40 years, when she is expected to be appointed director of the board in January.

Haines, 72, of Toms River, has been on the Board of Freeholders since 2016. She is only the second woman to serve on the five-member panel since the county was founded in 1850. Hazel Gluck, the only other female freeholder in its history, was on the board for one term in the late 1970s — serving as director in 1978 — before she was elected to the state Assembly one year later.

When Ocean County Republican leaders drafted Haines nearly three years ago to fill the unexpired term of former Freeholder James F. Lacey, she arrived with perhaps one of the most impressive political resumes of any freeholder in the state.

From 1994 to 2002, Haines was in charge of the New Jersey Lottery, overseeing a staff of about 100 and more than $1 billion in annual ticket sales as its executive director.

“The lottery is a very good job,” Haines said. “Because you’re giving money away to people and you always got to talk with them about what they were going to do with it. That was fun.”

Then-Gov. Christine Todd Whitman tapped Haines for the post six months after Haines was elected to a second term in the state Assembly, where she represented the 10th Legislative District in Ocean County.

While in the Legislature in the early 1990s, Haines was one of three Jersey Shore lawmakers who established the “Shore To Please” specialty license plates featuring Barnegat Lighthouse on Long Beach Island. The revenue generated from motor vehicle registration fees is still used to fund projects to prevent beach pollution and offset the clean-up costs of environmental emergencies.

 “Right after the ‘92 storm, the state didn’t have any money for Shore protection,” Haines recalled. “We wanted to create a dedicated revenue stream for things such as pumpout stations, ocean water testing by the state Department of Environmental Protection and stormwater runoff management.”

A lifelong Ocean County resident who grew up in Lakewood, “Ginny” Haines said she caught the political bug from her parents when she was a teenager. Her mother and father were both active in local Republican politics.

Later, she married a politician — M. Dean Haines, who would become the mayor of Barnegat at 23 and later Ocean County clerk at 30.

“I was always involved in him running for office and running non-profits,” Haines said. The couple divorced years ago but Haines kept her married name.

Decades before she would become a freeholder, Haines worked for Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. after he was first elected to the board in 1979 and later for state Sen. Robert W. Singer, R-Ocean.

A photo of Virginia Haines being sworn in. Virginia Haines is expected to become first woman to lead Ocean County’s freeholders in 40 years. (Photo: Peter Ackerman)

“Then I was selected to be clerk of the General Assembly and that’s where I really learned the most,” she said, which later prompted her to run for a seat in that chamber in 1991.

Today, highlights from her political life are illustrated in the form of framed photographs around her office — which include her standing with three presidents: Gerald R. Ford, George H.W. Bush and the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

A photo of her and her nephew Dillon, with President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump sits prominently on her desk. It was taken at a reception at the White House just before last Christmas.

“My nephew loves President Trump,” Haines said. “He’s got the shirts and the MAGA hat,” a reference to the campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Haines has been a Republican National Committeewoman since 2004 and co-chair of the Republican National Committee’s Northeast Region for the past five years.

Despite a schedule for the RNC that involves frequent trips out of state on party business — which she often pays for out of her own pocket — Haines has developed a reputation as one of the hardest-working freeholders on the board.

She starts her day early, before the sun rises, at a local gym. Weeks can pass before Haines allows herself a weekend off from official business and political engagements.

“I talk to so many people and I try to go to as many things as I can,” Haines said. “I try to learn as much as I can.”

“She is sincere and hard-working,” said Sheriff Michael G. Mastronardy, a fellow Republican, who explained that Haines sought to immerse herself in all areas of the county government’s operation from the moment she was sworn into office on Jan. 27, 2016.

Virginia Haines listens as an Ocean County Freeholders meeting gets underway. She is expected to become first woman to lead the freeholders In 40 years. (Photo: Peter Ackerman)

“She is dedicated to providing good services and good government to the residents of Ocean County,” Mastronardy said.

‘A man’s world’

The fact that more women have served on the U.S. Supreme Court than on the Ocean County Board of Freeholders is not lost on Haines, who still describes politics as “a man’s world.”

That may be an old-fashioned perception for 2018, but from the perspective of a woman in what is one of the most conservative counties in New Jersey, with a median age of 42.8, it has the virtue of still being true, observed Haines.

“I’ll call it the ‘man’s world,’ because it pretty much is; you’re always going to have more men than women (in politics). So, it is a man’s world,” she said.

As Haines spoke in her office on the third floor of the Ocean County Administration Building in downtown Toms River this past Tuesday, Freeholder Gerry P. Little, the current director of the board, knocked on the door and stuck his head in.

“This may be premature; we may not have the votes (to appoint you director),” Little said, before adding: “I’m only teasing.”

Haines laughed. “OK,” she replied.

Virginia Haines is expected to become first woman to lead Ocean County’s freeholders in 40 years. (Photo: Peter Ackerman)

Ocean County has come a long way from the days when a voter or even an impertinent reporter would ask a woman candidate for office who was taking care of her husband and their children back home, the freeholder explained.

Nonetheless, she personally never felt discriminated against because of her gender, Haines said.

Moreover, she said there should still be room to appreciate that men and women may have their own distinct perspectives on any given issue.

“I think as a woman, we look at things differently and we do have — I don’t want to say more compassion — but we are known to be more compassionate than men are,” the freeholder said.

Erik Larsen: 732-682-9359 or elarsen@gannettnj.com

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