JANUARY 6, 2012

“Middlesex County: Building the Future on a Strong Past


My distinguished Freeholder colleagues, members of the Clergy, Judiciary, Federal, State, County and Local officials and friends, it is with great honor that I welcome you to the 2012 Reorganization of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

I am humbled to be able to stand before you as Freeholder Director and thank my colleagues for the confidence they have placed in me to once again lead this Board.

I welcome back Freeholders Carol Barrett Bellante and Charles Tomaro and congratulate them for their victories in this past November’s election. I would ask Carol and Charlie to stand now. Let’s give them a round of applause. The policies of this Board, and these Freeholders have earned the support of our citizens. I look forward to working with them and the rest of my Freeholder colleagues to once again serve the people of Middlesex County.

And serving the people is the true calling of all who hold elective office. It is not about partisan politics and personal agendas. We in Middlesex County are blessed to have a strong team of Freeholders who have dedicated themselves to making a better life for all who call Middlesex County home. It is by working together that we accomplish great things. That is why I can stand before you today to review our achievements and layout the goals for 2012. I thank everyone here today for your part in our success.

These successes, these building blocks, have enabled us to challenge ourselves in 2011 like never before.

Citing Middlesex County’s “strong and diverse economic base, and a sound financial strategy,” the County once again received a Triple A bond rating from Standard and Poor’s, one of the nation’s top bond rating firms. The County’s rating is higher than that of the United States of America. Standard and Poor’s has consistently assigned its highest rating to the County because of our sound and efficient financial management.

We gathered here last year knowing full well that the sputtering economy would continue to take its toll on the United States, on New Jersey and on Middlesex County.

So, it was on this stage and in this very address last year that I announced the Freeholders’ unanimous decision to change the way Middlesex County operates, to change the way we do business and to meet the demands of this down economy head on.

Over the past 12 months, we have consolidated 28 departments into five. We realigned work groups and functions to offer better service and improve efficiency. In 2012 we will continue our push toward utilizing new technology in serving our residents. We will implement electronic signature capabilities that will eliminate unnecessary paper documents. I commend each one of our employees for their hard work and dedication to this reorganization effort and their commitment to embracing new technology.

It is because of you that we have a retooled Middlesex County government that continues its tradition of quality service to our residents.

We challenged ourselves on all fronts. Faced with depleting revenues, we searched for new revenue sources and ways to lower the cost of running County government.

In 2012, we expect to see our Sustainable Energy Master Plan come to life, as we build a state-of-the-art solar panel project at our Apple Orchard Lane complex. We expect to save more than $13 million dollars over the next 15 years. Also, right here at the County College, our solar project is expected to save an additional $12 million.

Because of the success of these two projects, we decided to help our municipal and school district partners explore their own solar projects. We are now in the middle of the assessment phase. Our partners may very well be on the path to their own projects – and their own savings -- in 2012.
With a solid portfolio of Shared Services on which to build, we reached out to our municipal partners, private industry and other counties to regionalize services.

Working across County lines is nothing new to us. We have agreements in place with Gloucester, Mercer, Monmouth and Somerset counties that generate nearly $4 million dollars each year in revenue for Middlesex County.

Bolstered by the successes we are experiencing, we are aggressively pursuing yet another innovative arrangement. Today, I am announcing that Middlesex County and Union County are exploring the feasibility of establishing regionalized Public Health Services to serve both counties. We fully expect that this regionalized approach will be more efficient and save both counties taxpayer dollars.

Turning to our municipal partners. Our County Fire Marshal’s bureau now manages Uniform Fire Safety Inspections for several towns, and we expect that program to grow further this year. We also have opened our 800-megahertz, emergency communications system to our municipalities, and expect that program to grow as well.

Four municipalities used our new, robust reverse 9-1-1 system to send urgent messages to their citizens during Hurricane Irene. We are inviting other municipalities to join our system, which would mean savings for all of us.
It is no secret that the cost of prescription medication has skyrocketed over the past few years. To bring our costs for employee prescription drug benefits down, we have placed the management of our program under the Middlesex County Joint Health Insurance Fund. By consolidating both Health Care and Prescription Plans under the Joint Health Insurance Fund, we believe we will stabilize the cost of Health Care in 2012 and beyond. In the coming months, we will open up our prescription plan to our municipal partners where we believe even greater cost savings will be achieved.

Because the economy has dominated the national spotlight for the past three years, it becomes very easy to lose sight of what lies beyond the numbers and beyond the dollar signs. One thing that sets Middlesex County apart from the rest is our ability to not lose focus on what matters most, which is the people we serve.

Our efforts to end homelessness in Middlesex County have taken a step forward. We have created a conduit to reach our goal of ending homelessness in 10 years. Coming Home of Middlesex County is just what we need to meet this aggressive goal. Together with our municipalities, private non-profit organizations and a continued commitment, we can make our dream a reality.

We are also proud of our program to lend a helping hand to those looking to purchase their first home. Through our American Dream Down Payment Program, we have provided $2.3 million dollars over the past three years to help more than 240 families become first-time homeowners.

In the area of senior services, Middlesex County is developing a range of health care services for our seniors as part of a continuum of care. We are aggressively exploring ways to use the Roosevelt campus in Edison to house doctors’ offices, cancer and dialysis centers, a wellness center, an outpatient rehabilitation center and an adult day care center, all with the goal of helping residents stay healthier and more active.

By implementing this program, we will be on the cutting edge of enabling our seniors to remain at home in surroundings that are comfortable.

But when residents need additional assistance for rehabilitation or long-term care, they can rest assured that they will receive quality, compassionate care at our Roosevelt Care Centers, the first in Edison and the second, our newest location, in Old Bridge. And that is what good government is all about.

Staying active and healthy are key components to a high quality of life, no matter what your age. Middlesex County has always placed a priority on offering a wide range of recreational opportunities in state-of-the art facilities.

In 2011, we opened our 21st County park, Crabiel Park, named for our beloved former Freeholder Director. The park, at the border of Milltown and North Brunswick, features a multipurpose field, a Little League field, a playground and walking trails on 25 acres.  

In addition to building new facilities, we continue to upgrade and renovate existing facilities to better meet the needs of our residents. We are ahead of schedule with the completion of the remediation and reconstruction of the Joseph Medwick Park in Carteret, which will restore the 83-acre park to its natural beauty. The newly reconstructed park will have state-of-the-art recreational facilities, including baseball and softball fields, a playground, new tennis courts and open areas for residents to enjoy.

The long-anticipated opening of the Middlesex County Greenway is scheduled for this coming spring. The 3.5-mile walking, hiking and biking trail that connects Edison, Metuchen and Woodbridge is part of the East Coast Greenway, which runs from Maine to Florida, offering our residents a unique recreational opportunity.

And speaking of unique recreational opportunities, Middlesex County is home to one of the greatest outdoor theater experiences in the region. Plays in the Park will celebrate 50 years this summer. That represents 50 years of quality, family entertainment that draws tens of thousands of fans every summer to Roosevelt Park’s Capestro Theater.

In 2011, we added 355 acres to our Open Space inventory in Cranbury, South Brunswick, Old Bridge, Monroe, Middlesex Borough and Woodbridge. We also added two farms, totaling 91 acres, to our highly successful Farmland Preservation program. To date, the County has preserved forever more than 7,300 acres of Open Space and more than 5,000 acres of farmland. 
The initiatives, the programs and the policies we will undertake in 2012 are the outgrowths of a very ambitious agenda that we set in 2010. With foresight, ingenuity and courage, we became a leader in county government throughout the State.

As we move into the New Year, each Freeholder will skillfully guide his or her committee to exceed the expectations of our citizens. Freeholder Carol Barrett Bellante, as chair of the Finance Committee, will continue our tradition of offering the second-lowest cost of County government in the State. As chair of the Infrastructure Management Committee, Freeholder Pete Dalina will ensure that our parks system and our recreational opportunities are second to none and that our roads and our bridges are well maintained.
Freeholder Charles E. Tomaro will lead the Business Development and Education Committee to boost economic development, encourage employment and further strengthen our educational opportunities. Freeholder Blanquita B. Valenti, as chair of the Community Services Committee, will continue her strong advocacy for those who need our help the most. Freeholder H. James Polos, as chair of the Public Safety and Health Committee, will put the well-being of our citizens first by embracing innovative safety and health programs. 

Freeholder Deputy Director Ronald G. Rios will continue to drive efficiency in the workplace through technology. He will provide key guidance to ensure that the vision and the goals of the Board are carried out through his role as chair of the Administration Committee.

As your Freeholder Director, I will continue to dedicate my time and energies to working closely with the leadership across our 25 municipalities, so that as a team, we can make sure Middlesex County continues to be a great place to live, to work and to raise a family.
But at the end of the day, leadership is only as good as the people around them, so I thank our department heads, directors and division heads and the entire workforce for their dedication to serving the people of Middlesex County. I ask my colleagues to rise and applaud our employees. It is by working together toward a common, unwavering goal that we can attain excellence.

As it was once said: “Excellence can be obtained if: care more than others think is wise; dream more than others think is practical; expect more than others think is possible.”

Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly stand before you and make this simple statement. The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders cares more, dreams more and expects more. And that is what makes Middlesex County, The Greatest County in the Land!”