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Warren County lawmakers calling on Gov. Murphy to release discretionary CARES Act funds for COVID-19 expenses

BELVIDERE, NJ (Warren County) – Warren County’s elected local, county and state officials gathered on the steps of the court house in Belvidere Tuesday to call on Governor Phil Murphy to release discretionary funds from the CARES Act that will help the county deal with unforeseen expenses resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Today we are demanding that Governor Murphy immediately release the monies from the federal CARES Act,” Freeholder James R. Kern III said. “This legislation passed both houses of Congress over four months ago with overwhelming bipartisan support. While Warren County was precluded from direct funding, New Jersey’s entire congressional delegation wrote the Governor a letter on April 10th asking that he release the discretionary aid that was contained.”

Kern was joined by his board colleagues, Freeholder Director Richard D. Gardner and Freeholder Jason J. Sarnoski; and state Sen. Michael Doherty, Assemblyman Erik Peterson, Belvidere Mayor Joseph Kennedy, Belvidere Councilman Joseph Roth, Hardwick Mayor Kevin Duffy, Knowlton Mayor Adele Starrs, Liberty Mayor John Inscho, Phillipsburg Mayor Todd M. Tersigni, Pohatcong Mayor David Slack, Pohatcong Councilwoman Ingrid Gray, Washington Borough Mayor David Higgins, and White Township Mayor Jeff Herb.

Assemblyman John DiMaio sent a statement, as did Frelinghuysen Mayor Christopher Stracco and Deputy Mayor Keith Ramos, and Mansfield Mayor Joseph Watters.

Senator Steve Oroho and Assemblymen Parker Space and Hal Wirths (all R-24) released the following statement in support of Warren County’s efforts to secure a fair share of CARES Act funds, “Our taxpayers and county governments are being ignored, and sadly, we have reached a point where we must come together and demand the Administration in Trenton hears us loud and clear. We can no longer stand silent as our pleas for help are ignored while the money counties so desperately need has already been delivered by the federal government and is sitting idly in a state account. Warren County, along with Sussex, Morris and nine other counties that didn’t qualify for direct federal aid through the CARES Act were promised some of the $250 million in reimbursement of coronavirus-related expenses. Months have gone by, and not a penny of that money has been received. In the meantime, the more than $2 billion in federal relief remains unspent. In his role as the Republican Budget Officer, Senator Oroho has been leading the charge to hold the Administration accountable and make them do the right thing, to put this money to work where it is needed. If local governments don’t get reimbursement from CARES money, property tax increases are inevitable. With New Jersey’s track record of astronomical property taxes, that is not an option we can live with. Murphy has repeatedly claimed he is asking for guidance from the federal government on how the money is to be spent. But guidance from the federal Department of the Treasury was issued more than a month ago, on June 24 and again less than a week later.”

The senator and assemblymen said, What is he waiting for? Why the delay?

“The Administration must loosen its purse strings and deliver the pandemic relief that was intended by the feds when they sent the CARES money to Trenton. Counties have endured the burden of costly and unanticipated expenses due to the coronavirus. From supporting the front line of the health care response and temporary testing centers, to major investments in the vote-by-mail primary in July, counties have been responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars and they must be reimbursed,” Oroho, Space and Wirths said.

Speaker after speaker decried the lack of funding, noting Warren County has done what the Governor asked by setting up a COVID-19 testing center and by forgoing a regional approach to reopening the economy to comply with the Governor’s statewide approach.

“During the pandemic, the Governor has opposed a regional approach and treated the entire state with one set of rules. Unfortunately, he has not distributed money in the same fashion,” Kern said.

“While we did offer an approach to a regional reopening plan, we obliged with his overall vision. Warren County took the lead early on in the crisis, opened up a testing site to assist with his aggressive COVID-19 testing plan. Right now our local taxpayers are the hook. Over the past few days the Governor has begged for more money, claiming Congress is being partisan in their approach. I call foul. Why should New Jersey receive more money when according to reports, over 90 percent has not been allocated? How can he ask for more money for our state when Warren County and our municipalities have yet to receive a direct penny of direct aid? I am proud to stand here today with leaders across our County and demand that this money be released. Don’t cry foul, Governor, when you are committing the same penalty,” Kern said.

“Governor, it’s not your money. It’s federal dollars. Send it our way. It’s just basic respect,” Gardner said. “I don’t want to say it smells like politics, but ladies and gentlemen, it sure does smell like politics. There’s no reason for it.”

Noting the county has done what Gov. Murphy asked, Gardner added, “The arrogance from Trenton – intolerable! They should not be asking for our state tax dollars to go down there when they can’t even respond to us.”

“I have a message for the governor: Governor, stop playing favorites with the financial futures of your constituents,” Sarnoski said. “The federal funds were set aside so counties can get the aid and relief they need, he added, and other counties have received well beyond what they’ve spent. But Warren County got nothing in two rounds of pandemic funding.”

“Our business are suffering, our residents are suffering, our taxpayers are suffering. We have the ability to provide the relief, which you are holding on to and you refuse to give us. It is very simple. We’re not asking for more than we are owed, we asking for what we need to continue to fight this pandemic. Please, Governor Murphy, release it,” Sarnoski said.

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Jay Edwards

Born and raised in Northwest NJ, Jay has a degree in Communications and has had a life-long interest in local radio and various styles of music. Jay has held numerous jobs over the years such as stunt car driver, bartender, voice-over artist, traffic reporter (award winning), NY Yankee maintenance crewmember and peanut farm worker. His hobbies include mountain climbing, snowmobiling, cooking, performing stand-up comedy and he is an avid squirrel watcher. Jay has been a guest on America’s Morning Headquarters,program on The Weather Channel, and was interviewed by Sam Champion.

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