BELVIDERE, N.J. – Warren County Commissioner Jason J. Sarnoski was sworn in for a fifth term and Commissioner Lori Ciesla was named director for 2023 as the Board of County Commissioners held its annual reorganization meeting at the courthouse in Belvidere.
Commissioner James R. Kern III was named deputy director, and Warren County Clerk Holly Mackey was sworn in for a second five-year term.
Ciesla, a former Lopatcong Township Council member who is starting her third year on the board, was sworn in as director by U.S. Representative-elect Thomas Kean, Jr. as she was flanked by seven friends – Scott Dorrler, Jackie Hlinka, Gail Perruzzi, Lori Fiore, Melissa Saykay, Katie Hirner and LisaMarie Agolio – who she brought forward to assist as she took the oath of office.
“I want to give special thanks to my colleagues, Commissioners Kern and Sarnoski, for putting their faith in me to lead the board this year,” Ciesla said. “I am excited and thrilled to be doing so and am grateful for their support and teamwork.”
Sarnoski, with his wife, Tammi, and children Jason and Skyler at his side, was administered the oath of office by newly-elected Warren County Surrogate Michael J. Doherty, who until last month was a state senator representing the area. Calling Doherty his “good luck charm,” he noted Doherty had sworn him in all five times.
Speaking before an audience that included municipal officials, county department heads and employees, and other well-wishers, the three commissioners outlined their plans for the coming year but noted they will continue with the fiscal responsibility and “pay as you go” policies that have been the hallmark of the board during their tenures.
Reflecting on his 12 years in office, Sarnoski noted, “When I started, the county was in the middle of a housing recession with an unsustainable budget and increasing debt. My early years as a freeholder were spent righting the ship, reducing the size of county government, and giving voters control of their debt. After that, reducing spending to the lowest amount in a decade became easy, we eventually eliminated county debt and created a sustainable, controllable budget that can and has weathered changes in the economy, a pandemic and countless curveballs thrown at us by out-of-control state spending.”
Kern noted that as a former mayor, he knows “the bureaucracy that comes out of Trenton makes our job so hard to do.”
Kern issued a challenge to municipal leaders to help residents understand the roles of the different levels of government in New Jersey – state, county and local – and what each does.
“The County is not an appellate court, we can’t overrule you. New Jersey is a home rule state. Take that challenge and run with it. You have control over your own destinies,” Kern said. “If the state of New Jersey had elected leaders like we have in our municipalities in Warren County, we’d have a much better state.”
Ciesla becomes the first female commissioner director in Warren County since the name of the county’s governing body was changed from freeholder to commissioner two years ago. She noted the county’s first female freeholder, Irene Smith, took office 40 years ago, and the only other women to be elected to Warren County’s government have been Ann Stone, Susan Dickey and Ciesla, with 20 years elapsing since the last time a woman held the gavel.
“I personally do not think your gender regulates whether you will be a good leader, but I am also aware of the low numbers of women in government positions, even until today. I am honored and grateful to be part of the positive statistics of female politicians,” Ciesla remarked.
“As the leader of the board of the Warren County commissioners for 2023, I promise you that I will work hard with Jim and Jason for everyone in our county,” Ciesla said. “We will continue to focus on the issues that help us maintain our Warren County way of life.”
Ciesla noted the board’s pay-as-you-go policy is allowing the county to improve buildings, such as the courthouse where the reorganization meeting was held, and to build new facilities, without incurring a debt burden for county taxpayers. The county is currently working on plans for constructing a new human services building, reconfiguring and upgrading the Wayne Dumont, Jr. Administration Building in White Township, and renovating the Warren County Library’s Catherine Dickson Hofman Branch in Blairstown, she said.
“We will continue to enhance our buildings and services to meet the needs of our residents today and those of the future, as we are looking to implement solar power for our buildings where we can, and include EV charging stations to service our electrified fleet in the years to come,” Ciesla said. “We are doing all of this with an eye on the bottom line, of course. We understand our dollars are really your dollars, and they do not grow on trees.”
Ciesla said she will continue to press for improvements to bring broadband data access and better cellular coverage to areas of the county that need it, to promote and support local businesses that help maintain the area’s rural character and to “fight hard against and state legislation that hurts us, and work with our legislators to craft legislation that helps us.”
Ciesla also noted Warren County’s bicentennial is coming up in 2025 and plans are underway for multiple events to celebrate the 200 years the county has existed.
“We are looking to highlight not only our history, but our present and our future, and we have so much planned. If you’d like to join us in the planning, let us know,” Ciesla said.