James Kern III sworn in for second term; Jason Sarnoski named Warren County Commissioner Director for 2022
BELVIDERE, NJ (Warren County) – The Warren County Board of County Commissioners on Saturday reorganized for 2022 in the newly renovated Courtroom 1 of the historic Warren County Court House, electing Jason J. Sarnoski as their Director for the year and Lori Ciesla as Deputy Director.
Commissioner James R. Kern III, re-elected without opposition last November, was sworn in to his second three-year term on the board by Superior Court Vicinage 13 Assignment Judge Thomas C. Miller.
The annual meeting included a little more pomp than usual, as the Belvidere Singers, a vocal group from Belvidere High School under the direction of Adam Conti, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the start of the meeting, and “America the Beautiful” to close it. The meeting also featured a ribbon-cutting to mark the completion of the long-awaited courtroom renovation.
“A promise I’ve been making for many years has finally been delivered,” Sarnoski said, after he, Ciesla and Kern used oversized scissors to snip a red ribbon strung at the front of the courtroom as Miller looked on.
“Judge Miller has been such a great partner in this,” Sarnoski said. “It would have been impossible without his support and the whole judiciary’s support.” He also thanked past freeholders for their efforts, as well as the judiciary, Prosecutor James Pfeiffer, county Administrator Alex Lazorisak, and new Public Works Director Emily Hammer, who joined the county about three months ago, for making the renovations a reality.
Over the years, a number of freeholder boards – as the county governing body was known before a state law changing the name went into effect last year – vowed to renovate as they held the annual reorganization meeting under the peeling paint and fraying plaster of the courtroom. The Court House was the first public works project the newly established County embarked upon after separating from Sussex County in 1825, and Courtroom 1 was part of the original building, which has been expanded several times.
It was not an easy renovation, working in an historic building, Sarnoski said. “I know you all remember – because I’ve seen you here at previous swearing-ins – what this looked like.”
The $1.2 million renovation included technological upgrades that allow for remote trials and video conferencing. “This very old courtroom is now one of the most modern in the state, and that’s something we should all be proud of,” Sarnoski said.
In other remarks, Sarnoski described this year’s board reorganization as “a day of gratitude” to many, starting with his Board of County Commissioners colleagues who he thanked for their trust and support of him as director for the coming year. Now in his 12th year on the board, Sarnoski also served as director in 2013, 2016 and 2019.
Sarnoski said Kern’s leadership as director in 2021 and managing the county’s COVID-19 response over the past two years “has been nothing less than heroic,” and he also praised the county Health and Public Safety departments, singling out Health Officer Pete Summers, Epidemiologist Courtney Sartain, and Deputy Public Safety Director Dennis Riley, for their efforts guiding the county’s pandemic response efforts.
Meanwhile, Ciesla has done a great job in her first year on the board, serving as a constant advocate for municipalities, and organizing the very successful Health and Wellness Field Day, Sarnoski said.
Sarnoski then thanked County Clerk Holly Mackey, Election Administrator William Duffy, and the entire elections team for conducting last year’s elections. “This (past) year was challenging, especially given all the new election rules and the COVID we had to deal with,” Sarnoski said. But the voting machines the county purchased, which produce a verifiable paper record of each person’s ballot, “proved to be the right choice. We knew that we had security and trust in our election process because of the machines we purchased and the things we did in the past. That’s something not everyone can say,” he added.
Sarnoski also thanked the county’s mayors – “They’ve also been heroes over the last two years” of the pandemic – the state legislators who represent Warren County in Trenton, Lazorisak and his administrative team, and his family for their support.
In the year ahead, Sarnoski said his plans including continuing to push the NJ Department of Transportation to move forward with “the projects we want to see, and abandon those we don’t” such as the Route 80 rockfall mitigation project.
In her remarks, Ciesla said that after her first year on the board, “I am unbelievably impressed with the employees that work for this county. They don’t let anything get in the way of them doing their job. And their job is to serve the people of the County of Warren.”
Ciesla said the county “ramped it up again” in 2021, opening vaccination clinics to deal with the pandemic. “We understand what everyone is going through,” she said.
Regarding the Health and Wellness Field Day, Ceisla said the event happened because of everyone working together, adding the event’s goal was “to reach out to those who need us most and show them our services.” The event has been awarded a $15,000 grant for this year, she said.
The county faces many challenges, including land use and transportation issues that Ciesla plans to continue addressing in the coming year.
Kern, who is commissioner liaison for public safety and health, leads the county’s COVID-19 Task Force. “What the county staff has done to confront this pandemic is just nothing short of amazing,” he said, noting that in the past year, the county conducted 118 vaccine clinics, administered just shy of 20,000 shots, and saw more than 300 people helping at the vaccination sites, including staff and volunteers. Nurses, physicians and pharmacists all helped to vaccinate Warren County’s population, “because early on we were not getting any help from the Governor’s Office in confronting this pandemic,” he remarked, adding, “The county staff stepped up, got it done.’’
Kern said that “Warren County will continue to adapt, and fight this virus, but we must do so based on science, not political science. The vaccines work, and we can’t continue to live our lives as if they don’t.”
Kern also noted that the commissioners are continuing the legacy of past boards and running county operations with fiscal responsibility. “We will continue to scrutinize every expense and provide a responsible budget to our taxpayers,” Kern said.
Kern said he is excited about the new Environmental Committee being formed, noting the county has received a significant number of applications from residents volunteering to participate. The committee will advise the commissioners and the public on environmental issues, increase awareness of those issues, and help assure that residents and visitors alike can enjoy a healthy environment and improved quality of life.
Also offering remarks and well-wishes for the coming year in addition to Judge Miller, Pfeiffer, and Mackey, were former Freeholder Richard D. Gardner, former Sheriff Sal Simonetti, State Senators Michael Doherty (23rd District) and Thomas H. Kean, Jr. (21st District), Assemblyman Erik Peterson (23rd District), and Warren County Republican Chairman Douglas Steinhardt.