DeGroot joins county commissioners

NEWTON. Jill Space is chosen as the board’s director and Chris Carney as the deputy director.

| 02 Jan 2024 | 08:27

Jack DeGroot, 24, of Wantage outlined plans to increase the county’s farmland preservation program after he was sworn in as the newest member of the Sussex County Board of County Commissioners on Monday, Jan. 1.

During the board’s annual reorganization meeting in the county courthouse in Newton, Jill Space was chosen as the board’s director and Chris Carney as the deputy director. He served as director in 2023.

Carney noted that after two years on the board, he will be the senior commissioner when Dawn Fantasia leaves to become a member of the state Assembly on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

Among the commissioners’ accomplishments in the past year was to give county employees “one of the best contracts they’ve seen in 15 years,” he said.

Space said she “is committed to doing all I can to keep Sussex County moving forward in a challenging economic climate.”

”The 2023 board has done all we possibly could to keep taxes as low as possible.”

One of her goals is to make the county’s website more user-friendly, with agendas, bills lists and meeting minutes posted where they can be found easily and in a timely manner.

”Another goal is to distribute the remainder of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds towards any capital projects we can. ... Keeping our infrastructure from disrepair is of high importance.”

With Sussex County’s long-term contract with Morris County to use its jail, “offloading the jail will be beneficial,” she added.

Fantasia, who was elected to the Assembly on Nov. 7 after five years as a commissioner, said her last meeting on the board was bittersweet.

”I’m looking forward to working with this board.”

She urged her replacement, who has not been named, to be guided by his or her moral compass. “Always putting people first, always prioritizing needs versus wants.”

Personal engagement

DeGroot, a farmer and graduate student, pointed out that five farms are in the process of being preserved: one in collaboration with the state, three with nonprofit partners and another with a county grant.

He promised to improve person-to-person interaction with farmers and provide information about Sussex County’s farmland preservation program and other agricultural services.

The county has had an average of two applications a year for farmland preservation in recent years, he said. He aims to double that number in the first year with increased outreach.

”While preserving farmland is crucial, we also have to focus on preserving farmers.”

He plans to seek opportunities and support agricultural programs at Sussex County Community College and Sussex County Technical School. “Each of these county informational resources offer a distinctive path to enhance the sustainability of our agricultural community.”

He also plans to contribute to programs offered by the county Division of Senior Services. “It is imperative that we take care of the well-being of those who have paved the way for us.”

DeGroot defeated Democrat Damaris Lira in the Nov. 7 election after winning the GOP primary in June against incumbent Herbert Yardley and Nick D’Agostino, president of the Sussex-Wantage Board of Education.

Yardley was running for a third term.