The Year 2003
Annual Freeholder Director’s Message
Freeholder Director David B. Crabiel Friday, January 3, 2003
“That’s The Way It Is”
My distinguished Freeholder colleagues, members of the clergy, members of the judiciary, officials, elected and appointed, County staff, and friends, one and all:
I extend to all of you a sincere wish for a Happy New Year with the hope and prayer that the year will be blessed with peace around the world.
My heart is full of gratitude to the fine citizens of our County for the tremendous election victory enjoyed by our Surrogate Kevin Hoagland, my running mate Freeholder Camille Fernicola, and myself.
Camille, I was truly pleased to run with you again and to have an opportunity to serve with you for three more years. You and I have been running mates on three occasions. I don’t want to upset you, but who knows? While I am 72 years young, we might very well be running mates again!
And, I thank my fellow Freeholders for entrusting to me the responsibilities as Freeholder Director for the year 2003.
Last year at this time, we were all recoiling in shock from the tragic events of September 11, 2001. I noted at that time that it was apparent that the terrorist planners hoped to bring our country to its knees, and to cast government at all levels into disarray, but they failed. Indeed, they failed miserably. All of our government units – and particularly our government here in Middlesex County, gathered strength from those tragic events and led our County to a truly outstanding year of progress and accomplishment.
- During the year 2002, we preserved our Triple-A bond rating from both major rating agencies. We did so while maintaining the second lowest per capita cost of county government in our State.
- We expanded our Open Space Preservation program and have preserved for posterity more than 5,700 acres (acquired and/or under contract) with additional acreage recently approved by resolution of this Board. Thousands of additional acres have been identified in our new Open Space Plan and we look forward to increasing our Open Space inventory in 2003.
- During the first two years of the Tech 2000 program, we have placed nearly 1,400 state-of-the-art computers in K thru 12 classrooms in public and private schools throughout the County.
- Giant steps were taken last year to reclaim for beneficial public use the 405-acre National Lead site in Sayreville. This project is a magnificent example of local County and State governments working together for the public good so that all our citizens can benefit from a significant increase in tax ratables while reclaiming and redeveloping the Raritan River waterfront.
- We are particularly proud of the steps taken to construct an athletic facility specifically designed for the physically challenged. The Level Playing Fields project is under construction at Roosevelt Park and will be available in the Spring of this year, as will be the family ice-skating rink being constructed in the same area.
- In August, Phase I of the Old Bridge Waterfront Park was completed to provide 1.3 miles of walkways, bikeways, fishing piers and a Police Department sub-station. We received $500,000 in Green Acres funds to offset the cost of that phase and we have received Notice of Approval for $1 million of Green Acres monies toward the cost of the second phase.
- Last month, we took action to formally accept some 40 acres of abandoned Conrail right-of-way with a purchase price of one dollar. The project is called the Middlesex County Greenway, and I cannot envision a better investment with a stronger guaranteed return for all of our citizens than the Greenway Project.
- But the crowning jewel of the long series of accomplishments last year was the establishment of a prescription drug program for our Senior Citizens and disabled residents.
The Federal government talks about the high cost of prescriptions for our seniors, but does very little to help.
There are 140,000 seniors over 55 years of age in our County. We believe that approximately 40,000 of them, who pay for prescriptions out of their own funds, will benefit from this innovative program.
Commencing New Year’s Day, they now have the opportunity to save on their prescriptions at a rate of 13% below the wholesale cost.
And this is good news for the Senior Citizens and disabled residents of Middlesex County.
And so, while the year 2002 was marked by preparations to secure the lives and lifestyle of our citizens in the event of future terrorist activity, the year was also marked by very real progress to improve the quality of life for all of our people.
All of it was a preamble to our plans for the year 2003.
We are all aware that great uncertainty abounds in our County, State and Nation. Our country seems to be moving closer and closer to war, and we read, repeatedly, about budget problems that confront our local, State and Federal governments.
For this reason, I believe it is time for us to re-focus our energies to control spending. Like many Middlesex County families, in these economic times, we must find ways to fulfill our obligations while living within our financial means.
I believe that through the efforts of the Freeholders, Department Heads, and County Staff, we have the most efficient county government in the State of New Jersey. However, we must always look for innovative ways to leverage County resources to meet our needs. I believe now is the time to further improve the efficiency of county government, hold the line on county spending and invest the dividends in the infrastructure and quality of services for the people of Middlesex County.
- We pledge today, that we will once again reduce the equalized tax rate – for the tenth consecutive year.
- To help fulfill this pledge, I would propose reducing the number of County employees by 100 – hopefully through attrition.
- Middlesex County, like the rest of the country, has an aging population. During these uncertain times, our older, retired citizens, living on fixed incomes, should have the assurance that Middlesex County government recognizes their “at-risk” status and is prepared to help them meet the challenges of the future. To that end, I am proposing that the existing Division on Aging be elevated to the status of a department to ensure that County government will focus, in the future, on the needs of our senior population. This change is included in the proposed 2003 Administrative Code.
- The Middlesex County Comprehensive Transportation Task Force will be recommending a consultant to review all transportation services provided by the County. The goal, of course, will be to determine if cost savings can be realized through more efficient operations while helping to alleviate traffic congestion and pollution.
Let us remember that as a society we will be judged not by the manner in which we serve those with the most, but by how we serve those in the most need.
This year will see progress in providing improved health care and housing for our senior citizens and disabled, a Victims Advocacy Center for those in need, and additional open space and recreational opportunities for the youth of our County.
- Construction will begin on the new, 180-bed extended care facility at the site of the former Roosevelt Care Center annex. We expect that new facility to be ready by mid-2004.
- Based on the feasibility study provided by Gilbane Building Company, during 2003 we will begin planning the renovations to the original, historic portion of Roosevelt Care Center so that it will offer accommodations, equal in amenity to the new 180-bed facility, for 165 residents, including 120 extended-care beds and 45 comprehensive personal care beds. I am also proposing, based on Gilbane’s recommendation, that we review the feasibility of including a Senior Day Care Center as part of this renovation project.
- This spring, we expect to receive the report from the Accessible Independent Living Housing Advisory Committee. That report will be a stepping stone for Middlesex County to move to the forefront of accessible housing opportunities for our physically challenged residents.
- Our County will seek $1 million in Federal funds from the Federal Home Funds program. That money will be used to leverage an additional $11 million to fund the construction of 100 additional, affordable Senior Citizen housing units.
- County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan is in the process of establishing a Victim Advocacy Center to be located in New Brunswick. This Center will encompass the Domestic Violence Unit, the Megan’s Law Unit, the Victim Assistance Unit and the Sex Crime and Child Abuse Unit. The Center will be staffed with counselors and will feature child-friendly conference rooms, interview rooms and observation rooms for adult victims of domestic and sexual violence. We will welcome this Victim Advocacy Center as an important new service offered for victims of crime in Middlesex County.
- We will take steps to purchase a 25–acre portion of the DKM property on Route 1 in North Brunswick utilizing the Open Space Trust Fund. Active recreation and athletic fields will be constructed on this parcel. The remaining portion of this property will be acquired and improved by the State for economic development purposes. We believe the combining of County and State resources to use the property for recreation and job creation is a win-win for County residents.
- We will also take bids to provide 100 acres of active recreational facilities to include soccer field, ball fields, cricket pitches and playground and support facilities at the John A. Phillips Preserve in Old Bridge Township.
- We will study the feasibility of establishing a county zoo patterned after the very successful Turtle Back Zoo in Essex County. Our studies will include the feasibility of such a project and the likelihood that it would generate sufficient revenues to be self-supporting. County tax dollars should not be used to subsidize this type of project.
In summary then, I confidently expect very real progress to benefit the citizens of our County with both long-term and short-term improvements. We will strive to live within our means, continue to stabilize our low-level of property taxes and increase the quality and efficiency of County services.
We have often bragged about our prominence as a truly outstanding County in the State. We boast an outstanding County College and Vo-Tech schools, 19 outstanding County parks, an active Open Space Preservation program and the work of a truly outstanding cadre of public employees and volunteers.
Today, we renew our commitment to make things better tomorrow than they are today.
We do so with the fervent wish shared by all my colleagues and by Mary and I, that every citizen of Middlesex County will enjoy the rewards of a very happy new year – a very safe and productive new year with a quality of life unmatched anywhere. We will continue to insure that Middlesex County is “The Greatest County in the Land.”
And finally, in the words of Walter Cronkite “That’s the way it is!”
Thank you and God bless you all.