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Freeholder Defends County Spending on Homeless, Vulnerable

Speakers share personal tales of struggle, ask for more help

The director of the Ocean Board of Freeholders defended the county's spending on social services Wednesday while rejecting the possibility of an additional surcharge on filed documents to bolster a Homeless Trust Fund.

Freeholder Director Gerry Little likened the optional surcharge to an unnecessary tax at the board's regular meeting, which was marked by several pleas from speakers for more assistance for the county's homeless and vulnerable population.

"We have no inclination to adopt a new and expanded tax on the backs of the people of Ocean County," Little said.

Speaker Carol Gay of Brick reiterated pleas by others in  for the county to consider the $3 surcharge on documents filed with the Ocean County Clerk's Office, as allowed by state law. 

"There are more and more holes in the social safety net," Gay said.

The surcharges would be collected for a county-wide Homeless Trust Fund that would be dedicated for several uses: acquisition or rehabilitation of housing units; rental vouchers; support services; and prevention services. Only 5 percent of the fund would be legally permitted to be diverted to cover administrative costs, with the balance going directly toward assistance measures.

But Little said the board was not partial to the idea, calling it a "permissive tax" that only eight of 21 New Jersey counties have elected to impose. The freeholder director also said the county's citizens already send enough tax dollars to Trenton with inadequate return.

"This board believes our taxpayers are adequately funding the New Jersey Affordable Housing Trust Fund," Little said.

The freeholders heard from six speakers who urged the board to do all it can to assist those in precarious financial situations.

"It's clearly obvious that the system is broken," said Elizabeth Arnone of Brick, after a Forked River man and Toms River woman shared their personal stories of struggle.

"Every day that goes by is another day that people are suffering, and much of the suffering is going by unheeded. We can't afford to have people living in tents while other people are being given affordable housing," Arnone said.

David Altier, a former Lakewood resident, asked the board to practice the "golden rule" when considering those in need of social services and "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." He joined the other speakers in asking the freeholders what they can do to help.

"We are very passionate, we are very understanding," Little said. "We wish we had a solution for everyone's circumstances."

But, he explained, the county Board of Social Services is legally restrained under state law in terms of what benefits can be offered to those in need of assistance.

"They cannot arbitrarily change the qualifications," the freeholder director said, in response to comments from those in danger who collect "too much" under unemployment to qualify for more expansive assistance.

He defended the Social Services staff who came under some criticism by speakers, saying "they're dedicated to serving the people of Ocean County," while acknowledging the board is "very aware that the staff is really overwhelmed with the number of clients we're seeing."

The Board of Social Services will see funding increased  upon adoption of the , to $19.7 million, to keep the department eligible for matching state and federal funds.

"It's the only major increase in our budget," Little said.

The freeholder director provided an itemized list of the millions of dollars the county annually spends on mental health care, job placement, food pantries, utility assistance, home-delivered meals, rental assistance and more while also directing speakers to Social Services' administrators in attendance to discuss individual situations.

"It's amazing how much money is spent to help the truly needy," Freeholder James Lacey said.

"We will continue to do our best to serve," Little said.

Miriam March 09, 2012 at 02:47 PM
A group of people will be meeting to discuss the solution and plan of action that does not scream more funding,which involve the community being one voice,hence I'm posting the information here for those who desire to see change to RSVP. http://tomsriver.patch.com/events/end-homelessness-and-political-corruption
Miriam March 09, 2012 at 11:39 PM
I ABSOLUTELY agree with cutting the program! And this is coming from a mother who is offered this program, and though I've utilized it to please my children who want to eat the same thing as their friends at school they said.I was convicted recently to not utilize the program, and explained to my children exactly why, and they can pick out a (cool) snack in their eyes, that the school doesn't have,which changed their perception in a positive way.My reasons are as follows; there is no reason why a household that receives food stamps should benefit from that program because that is double dipping! It also opens the door to wasteful spending, and fraud!And I do believe that is happening here! I also don't support placing my signature on a piece of paper the school kept harassing me to sign (they finally got the message), so they can receive funding,if a house hold is coded for receiving medicaid.The money goes into the school they say, um.....No. I recall a time the school tried to force me to keep my child a part of child study team, and used fear as a tactic by saying,if my child were to test out we would not get services again.So be it! I have FAITH in my child's abilities!It's time!Let her go!By the way I did petition for child study team to help my child in speech because I couldn't afford a consistent tutor! Took her off the program, and she is an A & B student!!! Yet, her grades were low when on the program? FUNDING!Lastly, fund tutors for low income households far better
Robert March 10, 2012 at 06:06 AM
Unfortunately, for you tweetie, the people of this state and country have a constitutional right, as well as a moral and legal right, to be helped by the government. Even the freeholders can't change that. To do nothing to assist the disadvantaged would be to send this society down a slippery slope that we may never recover from. Our economy and everything would suffer. Much better to help these people to help them contribute to society. I am so glad you are in the minority. You do appear to have only a minor education and severely limited mental capacity which is quite evident by your cursory and truncated statements. Plus, you simply say the same things over and over again without any facts to back up your statements. You are just simply sad.
Robert March 10, 2012 at 06:17 AM
Hey Fred, It is quite obvious that you haven't realized that we are in the midst of what those in high places are euphemistically calling an "economic downturn". The work is not out there anywhere. And the unemployment office is a joke. I can see you are a conservative. How nice it must be for you to look down on everyone else. l hope you lose your job and have to go through what others are now. Maybe we should just use you as a traffic cone now. Just like you conservatives to not care about anyone else but your own bottom line.
Stinger March 11, 2012 at 12:29 AM
If you wish to give money to the homeless by all means do so, it is a noble cause and you are a noble person who should be commended. However, use your own finances not the taxpayers. We all rise and fall of our OWN accord and right now my priorities are to MY family not some homeless person who took all the wrong roads in life. Perhaps one day I will be in a better position to pay it forward and be as noble as you folks, but today is not that day.

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