There are three seats up for grabs in Burlington County government in November and one race features a rematch between two candidates who faced off in 2013 amid mudslinging over the issues of "double-dipping" and the lack of law enforcement experience.
Those same issues have recently resurfaced in the race for county sheriff, a position that pays $120,000 a year.
The race pits Sheriff Jean Stanfield, a Republican lawyer from Westampton who has been in office 15 years, against Democrat James Kostoplis, a retired Hamilton Township police detective lieutenant from Bordentown with 35 years in law enforcement.
Stanfield's campaign recently accused Kostoplis of being a potential "double-dipper," echoing a phrase she used against him three years ago. If elected, Kostoplis would earn the sheriff's salary while collecting a $88,000 police pension, receiving two incomes from the government.
But Kostoplis said that if he is elected to the three-year post, he would save Burlington County taxpayers money. Stanfield receives about $28,000 a year in health benefits and pension payments, a package he would not collect. "It would actually be cheaper for Burlington County voters to elect me," he said.
Kostoplis also said his pension should not be held against him. "I paid into my pension and Hamilton Township paid into it. I went through a lot to earn it, missing holidays and birthdays and have been injured on the job."
He also said that he has more experience than Stanfield. She is one of the few sheriffs in the state who is a civilian, while he has served on the SWAT team and handled many crime scenes and crises in his career, giving him an edge when working with local police, he said.
Stanfield, who previously worked as an assistant county prosecutor, did not respond to a call and email for comment on her candidacy. Though she herself is not collecting a pension at this time, she previously hired two undersheriffs who were double-dippers, according to a Burlington County Times news report. Eric Arpert, a county spokesman, confirmed the two hires.
Freeholder Latham Tiver, Stanfield's running mate, has jumped into the dispute over double-dipping. Last month he proposed a ban on hiring any other "double-dippers," saying in a statement that the practice is "an abuse" and costs taxpayers.
Chris Russell, a campaign consultant for Stanfield and Tiver, said Stanfield agrees with Tiver's proposal. Russell said Stanfield's past hires have "been gone for several years now and she thinks it's the right thing to do to not hire double-dippers."
Russell also defended Stanfield's experience, saying she has been the county sheriff since 2002. "Clearly people think she's doing a good job and simply because she was not a police officer doesn't mean she's not qualified."
Tiver did not return calls for comment. A heavy equipment operator from Southampton, he is running for the one seat that is open on the five-member all-Republican board. Tiver is vying against Reva Foster, a Democrat from Willingboro Township who is executive director for the town's Senior Center.
Russell said that Tiver's proposed ban would exempt military veterans, who have a hiring preference in the county.
Kostoplis said the ban would be discriminatory because it prevents retired law enforcement, emergency personnel, and others from being hired just because they collect a pension. "If a person who collects a pension isn't ready for retirement and can still work, that person should be valued because their experience is important," he said.
Tiver, a former Southampton councilman, was appointed to the board in May to replace veteran freeholder Joe Donnelly after Donnelly announced he would not seek reelection to another three-year term and resigned.
Foster, his opponent, ran unsuccessfully against Donnelly in 2013. She is a former executive with Johnson & Johnson. In an emailed statement, she said: "As an executive I know that words and experience matter, and my opponent's record of making discriminatory proposals to distract from his record of raising taxes shows that we need more balanced representation on the Burlington County Freeholder board."
The county Republicans have dominated the freeholder board for about four decades.
Seth Levin, the campaign manager for the county's Democratic slate, said the Democrats have a good chance of winning in November because they have won seats in past elections whenever there is a presidential contest.
In the race for the five-year county surrogate post, Republican Freeholder Mary Ann O'Brien, whose term is not up until 2017, is running against Democrat Sander Friedman. Both are attorneys and both are from Medford.
The surrogate oversees the administration of wills, adoptions, and guardianships.
Sander ran for surrogate five years ago against incumbent Republican George Kotch and lost by two percent of the vote. Kotch, who was a Democrat when he was elected 10 years ago and later switched parties, decided in the spring against seeking reelection.
If O'Brien wins, the Republican Committee would recommend a replacement for her on the board to serve until November 2017. O'Brien has been on the freeholder board for five years and has had oversight over parks, open space, and human services.
Friedman was named "Attorney of the Year" in 2010 by the New Jersey Law Journal for his efforts in making government more open and transparent.