Atlantic County took the lead last week in trying to sort out the tangled finances of the South Jersey Economic Development District.
The district's future and the future of the NextGen Aviation Research and Technology Park in Egg Harbor Township have been in question since early last year, when the counties that make up the district learned that the SJEDD had gone deep into debt overseeing site preparation at the park.
Atlantic County freeholders last week approved an agreement to provide up to $474,000 to help pay contractors for work they did on the research park. Some contractors have not been paid for more than a year.
Unfortunately, freeholders approved the agreement in an unnecessary rush. The measure was a late addition to Tuesday's agenda. Newly elected Democratic Freeholder Colin Bell objected to the fact that he only learned of the vote 90 minutes before the meeting. He was right to object, and right when he said, "It's too important an issue to be voted on last minute like this."
Bell is now sponsoring a measure that would require the freeholders to post the full text of all proposed resolutions and ordinances on the board's website before each meeting. That should be a given at any level of government.
County officials said the quick NextGen vote was necessary to meet a March 1 deadline for receiving a $250,000 reimbursement from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to help offset payments to contractors.
But officials have known about this deadline for quite some time.
If the park can attract investment from the businesses that will help design the next generation of air-traffic control, it has the potential to bring hundreds of good-paying jobs into the area - engineering and support jobs that could help bring a new level of economic stability to Atlantic County and the rest of southern New Jersey.
There was nothing wrong with Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Salem counties - the members of the SJEDD - pursuing this project. There's nothing wrong now with trying to get the research park back on track. And certainly, contractors should be paid.
Taxpayers have the right, however, to keep an eye on things and to be able to have input into how their money is spent. There should have been enough notice of this vote to ensure that right.
Atlantic County deserves credit both for being the first member to recognize the problems with SJEDD and for taking the lead now in trying to make sure contractors get paid. But please, folks, as we pursue the NextGen dream, let's make sure the public has ample notice of any plans to spend more money on the project.