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Camden freeholder candidates tout their experience

On the Democratic side, there's a lawyer, a retired educator, an engineer and a sales representative. The Republican side features a computer network engineer, a teacher and a senior citizens group-home operator.

Jammes J. Valencia
Jammes J. ValenciaRead more

On the Democratic side, there's a lawyer, a retired educator, an engineer and a sales representative. The Republican side features a computer network engineer, a teacher and a senior citizens group-home operator.

The seven primary election candidates for two Camden County freeholder seats come from varied backgrounds but have the same goals: lowering property taxes, cutting spending, and attracting new jobs and businesses.

The incumbents, Democratic Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. and Riletta L. Cream, say property taxes are their top concern and tout the freeholder board's record of dropping the amount that local property owners pay by $1 million, to $242 million. The reduction was the second in the last two years; $5 million was cut last year.

Three of every four county homeowners - and 22 of the county's 37 municipalities - had decreases in their property taxes as a result of the 2008 budget.

"Riletta Cream and I will continue to address the [property-tax issue] by supporting a reduction in the size of government," said Cappelli, 45, of Collingswood. "We have held down taxes by cutting the number of employees and keeping personnel costs in check.

"We will continue to look to consolidation and increasing economic-development efforts."

Taxes stayed the same in six towns and rose in nine others: Brooklawn, Gloucester City, Laurel Springs, Lawnside, Pennsauken, Stratford, Voorhees, Woodlynne and Lindenwold, which faced the highest increase.

Delivering services "in a cost-effective manner has allowed us to successfully accomplish our fiscal goal this year . . . by reducing the tax levy," said Cream, 81, of Berlin, who declined to be interviewed and submitted comments through e-mail submitted by staff members. "I consider this an extraordinary triumph during this economic climate."

A Camden native, Cream served as a teacher and elementary school principal until her appointment as principal of Camden High School in 1972. She retired in 1987 but continued as adjunct professor at Rowan and Rutgers Universities and was appointed to the Board of Freeholders in 1994.

Winning reelection since then, Cream has focused on county education issues and has been proud of the board's effort to create "a tremendous environment for new business."

But Democratic challengers Mark A. Stettler and Mark E. Owens say the county can do better.

Stettler, 41, of Audubon, said his background as a professional engineer had trained him as a problem-solver, suited to take on the county's challenges.

"Engineers identify problems and find solutions that best fit," said Stettler, who oversaw two multimillion-dollar construction projects at two major U.S. Air Force installations. "You have to take in different variables."

Stettler put his engineering career on hold over the last few years while he helped his wife build a dental practice in Westmont. "I don't have political experience, but I want to get my political feet wet," said the Camden native. "I think people want to know something is going to be done about taxes and that their jobs are stable.

"I want to look for economies to reduce taxes and find ways of working with Philadelphia on projects that will be beneficial to both of us."

Expanding the regional economy is also important to fellow challenger Owens, who says the county needs "to attract more families, more business and more ratables to offset our burdensome property taxes."

"In short, we need to grow the economy," said the 39-year-old Audubon resident, a sales and marketing representative for a pharmaceutical firm. "I value public service and I want my children to know how important it is to be involved in the decision-making process.

"I believe I bring a fresh perspective to problems that continue to plague Camden County and I pledge to put taxpayers first, period."

On the Republican side, Alice J. Wood, Mary I. Cortes and Jammes J. Valencia are vying for the chance to compete in the general election.

"Taxes. That's the big issue," said Wood, a retired marketing education instructor at the school of business at the Camden County Technical Schools in Sicklerville. "I want to see taxes decrease or remain the same."

Residents of Lawnside, where Wood operates a group home for senior citizens, saw their taxes increase under the 2008 county budget. "You have to raise everybody's taxes or leave them alone," said Wood, 60, of Cherry Hill.

"I would look at our purchasing and see how we could do it cheaper. I would look to get rid of the big-salary patronage jobs and find creative ways of providing good employee health-care benefits at a good price."

Like Wood, Cortes said she hoped to curb county spending.

"The freeholders are famous for spending the taxpayers' money," Cortes, 52, of Camden, said. "I would look through the books to see where they freeholders have gotten a little too free with spending."

Cortes, a community activist who owns a Camden luncheonette and teaches high school dropouts as part of a program at a church, said she would encourage the creation of "pocket factories" in refurbished buildings in the towns.

"I want to create jobs for the neighborhood so money can stay in the neighborhood," she said. "Why not create something that's made in America, made in Camden, made in Pennsauken?"

To make the county attractive to new economic development, some business regulation should be relaxed and taxes should be lowered, said Valencia, 31, of Sicklerville.

"To lower property taxes, you have to lower spending," said the computer network engineer. "I would vote against a lot of the new spending and programs."

Though in favor of streamlining the education system across the county, Valencia does not support the trend toward consolidating all services. "The more consolidation, the more you have centralized power," he said. "The more local offices, the more local control."

A novice in politics, Valencia sees his lack of experience as a selling point. "I'm not a politician who goes in to do something for himself," he said. "I have a day job. I will be a statesman, a voice of Camden County who will fight for the people."

In another competitive race in next Tuesday's primary, a field of candidates is running for Winslow Township Committee, in four wards.

On the Democratic side, Joseph Brigandi of Winslow opposes Coronel Vanst of Waterford Works in Ward 1. The incumbent Republican, Karen Gibison, also of Waterford Works, is unopposed.

In Ward 2, incumbent Democrat Nick LoSasso is challenged by Russell H. Bates. Both live in Sicklerville

In Ward 3, incumbent Democrat Marie D. Lawrence faces James W. Pitts. Both live in Sicklerville.

In Ward 4, incumbent Democrat Charles Flamini is opposed by George I. Jones. Republican John M. Guthrie is running unopposed. All three live in Sicklerville.