A Cumberland County government entity will pay $8.2 million to buy the Delsea Drive building in Vineland that currently houses the county’s social services and Workforce Investment Board offices.

The move by the Cumberland County Improvement Authority means the social services offices will remain in Vineland and not move to downtown Bridgeton, county officials said.

Instead, Cumberland County Freeholder Director Joseph Derella said the county will move its library and administration offices to an office building to be constructed in downtown Bridgeton. The proposal could also involve a shared-services agreement between the county and Bridgeton’s public library, he said

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The cost of buying the social services building, constructing the office building in downtown Bridgeton, and moving the county WIB from the social services building to a new building on the Cumberland County College campus will be covered by a $25 million CCIA bond, Derella said. The $1.3 million the county currently pays annually to lease the social services building from Vineland Construction Co. will be used to pay the debt service on the CCIA bond, he said.

“We feel … we reached a very fair and equitable deal,” Derella said during a press conference held outside the social services building to announce the purchase and related plans.

The social services building totals 110,000 square feet. It is appraised at $9 million and has a tax assessed value of $8.3 million, according to information released by the county.

Wednesday’s announcement was not without controversy.

Derella, a Democrat, told those gathered for Wednesday’s event that opponents of the original plan to move the social services offices from Vineland to Bridgeton spread “misinformation” and “lies” to thwart the proposal. Freeholder Carlos Mercado, another Democrat, alleged in his remarks that Republicans worked with Vineland Construction to help drive up the price of the purchase deal.

That drew an angry response from Cumberland County Republican leader Robert Greco, who started shouting at Mercado as Mercado spoke during the press conference. Greco accused Mercado of playing politics during the speech and said that Mercado was not telling the truth about the Republican opposition.

Greco even charged that Wednesday’s announcement event may have involved an illegal meeting of the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders, as it was attended by five freeholders, four of whom were Democrats. That represented a majority of the seven-member freeholder board, he said.

Despite the verbal confrontation, officials also used Wednesday’s event as a way to mend some strained relationships.

Derella acknowledged “bad communication” between county and Vineland officials regarding the plans for the social services offices. He said he spoke with Vineland Mayor Ruben Bermudez before Wednesday’s event and promised better communications.

Derella also admitted that the original plan to move the social services offices to Bridgeton was essentially a ploy to work out a better purchase price from Vineland Construction.

“We had to have some kind of leverage,” he said.

The debate over where the social services offices would wind up should not have been “Bridgeton against Vineland,” Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly said.

“We’re all winners,” Kelly said of the plans announced Wednesday.

Earlier this year, the freeholders announced a three-pronged economic development plan that involved an estimated $45 million full-time technical high school and an estimated $6 million county WIB building on the Cumberland County College campus in Millville and Vineland.

Plans for the high school are still under way. Derella said construction of the new WIB building should begin in November and be completed in about a year.

The third part of the economic plan involved an estimated $14 million, three-story office building on Laurel Street in Bridgeton. County officials said the move would bring about 200 social services employees and thousands of social services clients to Bridgeton’s downtown each week. That move could help foster economic development in the county seat, they said.

The office building will now be about 30,000 square feet, smaller than the originally planned 60,000-square-foot structure, Derella said. The building will be either two or three stories and also have space for a freeholder meeting room, he said.

As for the current county library and administrative complex on Commerce Street in Bridgeton, Derella said there have been some preliminary inquiries from entities that might possibly want to use those buildings. He did not say whether the county was interested in either leasing or selling those buildings.

He also said the county could lease out the space the WIB currently uses at the social services building.

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