By Phineas Hogan
Benson, who has served in New Jersey’s legislature for over a decade, is the leading candidate to replace the incumbent Brian Hughes, who has been the county executive since 2004. The role of a county executive is to oversee the departments, services and projects of the county, as well as managing the county’s finances.
“I think folks are looking for a change,” Benson said. “We have 12 very vibrant and unique towns, and their mayors and council members are looking for a partner at the county level for its services and to make sure that the county government is responsive.”
Benson said that a top priority for him is to clean up the county’s finances and regain transparency of how taxpayer’s dollars are being spent.
An investigation by the New Jersey Office of the State Comptroller found that Mercer County incurred and paid nearly $4.5 million in fines and penalties due to mismanagement of taxes and untimely payments to the IRS and the state Division of Taxation. There is a forensic audit into the county’s finances in progress that is projected to be completed by the summer, according to Benson. “There’s a lot of cleanup that’s going to be needed,” Benson said. “When I come in, I will use some of that information, clean up the books, be very transparent about where we are, and try to coerce for sound fiscal management going forward.”
Benson said he has a commitment to supporting the county’s Human Services Department, spreading awareness and expanding access to services like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Workforce Investment Board.
“When someone comes in any of our doors with need… we want to make sure no matter which door they come in, we can take in the full portfolio of county services and help those folks become more self-sufficient, and again, help them with their needs,” Benson said.
Benson said he wants to work in unison with Mercer County’s municipalities to create improved, sustainable infrastructure and take advantage of the federal government’s unprecedented investment into it.
Benson also expressed that he wants to establish a Vision Zero Commission, which would work in collaboration between experts in infrastructure and communities affected by investment in an effort to eliminate all traffic and pedestrian fatalities. “I’m excited about those types of projects and our infrastructure,” said Benson. “I want to make things more safe, to make things more resilient, and to make better use of federal and state grant dollars so that our county tax dollars go farther.”
Benson served as the Assembly Transportation Chairman, and said he has many ideas of ways to improve access to public transportation in Mercer County.
New Jersey Transit is going county by county to review their bus routes, according to Benson, and he said that the county will work in collaboration with NJT to create routes that are most effective to meet the needs of residents today.
He said he will also look to make investments into microtransit, making use of van services and dispatch software to accommodate communities that don’t have access to existing transportation programs, “regardless of income, background, zip code and ability.”
Benson also mentioned working with the newly appointed President of Mercer County Community College Deborah Preston to invest and continue to improve the school, and with Trenton Water Works to address the issues of lead piping as some of his points of interest.
Benson has been endorsed by Governor Phil Murphy, Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman, and the incumbent Hughes, who dropped out of the race in March stating that he would never run against “another fellow Democrat.”
“We are making this campaign about people and what their needs are, making it something where I can hear back about what those issues are, and get feedback on what ideas we are putting out there,” said Benson. “If you do the campaign right, and you build those relationships with the voters, that now becomes a relationship with your residents that you serve.”