Burlington County government is preparing to bring new stakeholders to the fight when it comes to demanding South Jersey’s fair share of funding through a key federal homeland security grant program, Freeholder Director Kate Gibbs said today. For more than 15 years, the cumulative population and risk assessment of Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties has been used to help the Philadelphia region secure millions of dollars of Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) funding, yet the program has not made South Jersey residents any safer.
“It is outrageous that Burlington County is within the region’s security zone, yet the City of Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs are not sharing any of the millions of dollars they receive each year with us or other counties in South Jersey,” said Freeholder Director Gibbs. “For too long our residents have been treated like second-class citizens. While we continue to work alongside Congressmen MacArthur and Norcross on this important issue, I am asking other stakeholders in the area to join our fight to correct this dangerous and unjust situation.”
During its meeting on Wednesday, the Board is expected to adopt a resolution calling on the Trump Administration, City of Philadelphia, and the surrounding counties in Pennsylvania to properly award Burlington County and South Jersey with its fair share of UASI funding. At the same time, Freeholder Director Gibbs is sending a letter urging her counterparts on the freeholder boards in Camden and Gloucester Counties to adopt similar measures.
While other county officials lend their voice, Director Gibbs is expanding her coalition and asking first responders and concerned residents in Burlington County to sign a petition endorsing their effort to include South Jersey in UASI funding. The petition can be found here: http://bit.ly/UASIFairShareforSJ
Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Congress developed the Urban Area Security Initiative to provide funding and support to the highest risk urban areas throughout the country. In 2017, the Philadelphia Area UASI, a region comprised primarily of counties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, received nearly $18 million. Despite Burlington County being home to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, an international defense company, and its role as a major evacuation zone for Philadelphia, the county did not receive any of the funding. Equally as troubling, the county has not received any funding and has not had a seat at the table since the beginning of the program.
“Philadelphia and its suburbs have pirated over $100 million dollars at the expense of South Jersey residents. It’s hard to imagine that our population and threat level could be used to protect residents in another state,” added Director Gibbs. “This issue has become even more important as the county continually invests in our emergency communications system, which is critical to the safety and well-being of every man, woman, and child.”
Burlington County is in the process of a $40 million public safety communications upgrade project, which will allow all of the county’s first responders to operate on a comprehensive, state of the art radio system, according to new FCC standards. While there is no questioning the merits of the project, county taxpayers deserve fairness and shouldn’t shoulder the entire costs. UASI grant money could be used to offset the costs of this unfunded federal mandate.
Congressmen Tom MacArthur and Donald Norcross previously wrote to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security seeking a change in how the federal government distributes UASI funding. Director Gibbs’ efforts are meant to complement their advocacy.