Atlantic County freeholders declined Tuesday to establish a program that would set aside public contracts for veteran-owned businesses.

The freeholder board tabled an ordinance to establish a qualified veteran-owned business set-aside program that would reserve some county contracts for businesses owned by or employing veterans, Freeholder Colin Bell said.

He said freeholders expressed concern about the program's implementation and said they hope to vote again at a meeting next month.

Bell, a Democrat who has championed the program, said the vote was 7-2, with Republicans voting to table the ordinance and the two Democrats voting against the move.

"I am disappointed that the Atlantic County Board of Chosen Freeholders chose partisan politics over good public policy," he said. "This shows they are more interested in lip service than the men and women in our service."

Freeholder board chairman Frank D. Formica said hey wanted more time to work on the bill. He said the present draft would present contracting challenges for the county purchasing and legal departments, as well as not maximizing job opportunities for AtlanticCounty veterans.

“I would like to compliment my fellow Freeholders for the decision reached today,” he said. ”It is a decision that was not taken lightly, but we owe it to our Veterans to get it right for the right reason. And since we are the first local governance in the state and maybe nationally to attempt a program like this, we may be looked at as a model for other entities.”

If adopted, the program would be implemented within 30 days of the establishment of state procedural guidelines or March 1, whichever comes first.

The proposal is based on a state law approved in January that allows counties and municipalities to create such veteran set-aside programs. To qualify, a business must be at least 51 percent owned by a veteran, or veterans must perform at least 25 percent of the work on the county contract.

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