2014 Reorganization of the
Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders
January 5, 2014
“2014: A Year of Opportunity”
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 2014 reorganization of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
I welcome back to the dais Freeholder Blanquita Valenti and Sheriff Millie Scott and thank them for their unwavering dedication to the people of Middlesex County. I also welcome for the first time Freeholder Ken Armwood and Freeholder Charlie Kenny, whom I thank for their years of public service at the local level and now for their commitment to serve all of the County’s residents.
I congratulate each of you on your victories in this past November’s election. Let us applaud them now for the public service they have performed in the past and for the service they will undoubtedly offer in 2014 and in the years to come.
I wish to thank Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac for his tribute to our beloved former Freeholder colleague Pete Dalina. Pete probably would have been quite humbled by the fuss made over him, but if you can hear me Pete, it is well deserved. I’m sure that everyone in this room knew just how tireless and generous a public servant Pete was. His contributions to our dynamic parks and recreation facilities are his legacy to the people of Middlesex County, and for this, we are eternally grateful.
I also wish to thank Former Freeholder Director and current Superior Court Judge Chris Rafano for joining us and taking part in today’s ceremony. Your strong, compassionate leadership helped steer Middlesex County through one of the nation’s worst economic eras. I wish you well as you continue in your new role and know that you will bring to it the same dedication you brought to the Freeholder Board.
It gives me great pleasure to thank our U.S. Senator Robert Menendez for being here to swear me in as Freeholder Director of this great county. Truth be told, I never thought I’d ascend to this post and become the first Hispanic American Freeholder Director of Middlesex County. For that, I must thank my parents for their love and support and belief in the American dream. I must thank my wife, Micki, my daughters, granddaughters and son-in-law, for without them and their sacrifices, I could never hold public office.
It’s a fact that, whenever I am asked to speak publicly, I quite often make note of the three things I am most grateful for: Number 1, I thank God for the parents he gave me, Number 2, that they came to this great country of ours, and, Number 3, our veterans, who keep us safe and protect our freedom. It is because of these three things the rest of my life would not be possible. I am also grateful to my Freeholder colleagues for their confidence in me to continue in the Director’s role and lead this Board through 2014.
In 2013, under my direction, this Freeholder Board achieved much as a team with our administration and staff.
We maintained our Triple A bond rating, the highest rating attainable, and took advantage of historically low interest rates to refinance our debt. By doing so, we lowered our costs to enhance our roads, bridges and educational and recreational facilities. The County’s solar panel field at our Apple Orchard Lane Complex in North Brunswick became fully operational, generating all the power needed for all the buildings at the complex and saving 1 million taxpayer dollars every year for the next 15 years.
We made jobs a priority, first by introducing an online business portal that helps attract new business and helps existing businesses grow, and second by boosting our Workforce Development programs and business outreach.
We made our residents’ safety a priority by reviewing our response and recovery procedures in the wake of Super Storm Sandy. In addition, we hosted a gun buy-back program in conjunction with the Prosecutor’s Office and increased community outreach through the Sheriff’s Office.
We expedited repairs to Old Bridge Waterfront Park and Raritan Bay Waterfront Park, both of which sustained substantial damage from Super Storm Sandy.
We made investments in technology, such as completely automating the billing and medical records keeping at the newly dedicated George Otlowski Center for Mental Health Care.
These are great accomplishments indeed, but we should never be content to rest on our laurels. In fact, I am calling 2014 Middlesex County’s Year of Opportunity.
Over the next 12 months, many of the projects and programs we have been creating and enhancing will take hold.
The Board of Chosen Freeholders will be able to offer individuals and businesses the ability to engage and interact with County government more efficiently via a robust and dynamic County website. Users will be able to complete online payment and registration for programs; fill-out grant and program applications; reserve picnic groves; contact elected officials, view Freeholder meetings and even access resources and assistance through a live chat component.
The County, as part of a private-public partnership with the Middlesex County Improvement Authority, Edison Township and the JFK Health System will further its plans to transform the historic Roosevelt Care Center into independent, affordable apartments for our senior citizens, answering the growing and changing health care and housing needs of our residents.
We see this as a first step to building a health care campus in and around the historic building, which one day could include doctors’ offices, dialysis and rehabilitation centers, and an adult day care center.
Under the guidance of Freeholder Carol Barrett Bellante, we will enhance our early voting opportunities by implementing an Ease of Voting initiative, which will give our residents more options for voting, more ways to have their voices heard.
To continue our emphasis on embracing technology, we will integrate GIS-based technology over the next few years to improve service delivery throughout our offices.
We also anticipate adding to our already successful Open Space Preservation program. We expect to complete the purchase of the 23-acre Visco Property that lies within the environmentally sensitive Dismal Swamp.
With this addition, the County’s holdings within the pristine and important conservation area will increase to more than 100 acres. The County also is pursuing the purchase of 14 acres of Open Space in Metuchen, which could serve to connect any future purchases for the popular Middlesex County Greenway. These purchases will increase our total Open Space inventory to over 7,500 acres.
To add to our already impressive lineup of active recreational facilities, the County expects to transform the property across the street from the Perth Amboy Vocational-Technical High School into an active recreational area, complete with playing fields for the students, Perth Amboy residents and all Middlesex County residents.
Under the guidance of Freeholder Charlie Kenny, Middlesex County will embrace our Partners in Care initiative to raise the quality of life of our employees, while at the same time reduce the County’s health care costs.
Through this program, employees with chronic diseases or those at risk for chronic diseases – such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes – will work directly with physicians to address the problems early or before onset so they receive more effective and preventative care.
This program is running simultaneously with the Employee Wellness pilot program, aimed at helping employees raise their quality of life through smoking cessation programs, nutrition and exercise coaching and other lifestyle changes. Based on the performance of these types of programs within the private sector, the County anticipates a 20 percent reduction in our health care costs once these programs are fully implemented. That’s our objective.
In addition to online payment through our new web site, our Comptroller’s Office will introduce a secure EZ Pay system, enabling vendors and individual residents and taxpayers to pay any fees electronically, decreasing processing time. At the same time, the Tax Board will work to automate the application and payment processes for tax appeals.
Under the guidance of Freeholder Charlie Tomaro, the County will create its first-ever “pocket park” in the City of New Brunswick. This space would become the first County park within the County Seat and offer New Brunswick residents and those who work in the City a beautiful spot to congregate, enjoy musical entertainment and relax.
The County will continue its Capital Improvement Master Plan by methodically upgrading and improving bridges, roads and intersections to ensure the safety of our residents, and improving parks and school facilities to enhance their quality of life.
Major projects for 2014 include rehabilitating the Brainerd Lake Dam in Cranbury and replacing a bridge along Clinton Avenue in South Plainfield. We also will undertake major road improvement projects on River Road in Piscataway and Stelton Road through Edison and Piscataway; Route 516 in Old Bridge; and Woodbridge Avenue through Edison and Woodbridge.
Construction is planned to begin in the spring on the long-awaited New Brunswick Bikeway project, designed in cooperation with Rutgers University and the City of New Brunswick. The 1.86-mile bikeway connects Rutgers’ Cook and Douglass Campuses to Rutgers’ College Avenue Campus via a dedicated bike lane. The $8.2 million estimated project cost is eligible for up to $7.8 million dollars of Federal Aid.
We are working with the U.S. Department of Labor and the County Vocational-Technical High Schools to establish a trades’ apprenticeship program.
The goal is to expand and develop an in-house workforce with skills in specific areas such as HVAC, Plumbing and Electric. The Registered Apprenticeship Program provides opportunities for Vocational School students seeking high-skilled jobs, whose productivity and knowledge will increase due to on-the-job learning from an assigned County mentor and related technical instruction.
At the same time, the County will be able to build a stable and predictable resource for the development of qualified workers. It creates a systematic approach, ensuring that employees are trained and certified to produce at the highest skill levels required for that occupation. This program will also result in significant savings to our taxpayers by expanding preventable maintenance and facility repair to reduce the cost of our day-to-day operations.
Under the guidance of Freeholder Ken Armwood, the County will be able to offer our students new classroom space and improved services at Middlesex County College, which is constructing two new buildings on its campus. First, the College was awarded $14.8 million dollars in competitive grants to build and equip a new Academic Science building that will house additional instructional and lab space for science programs (especially chemistry and biology) to enable the College to expand its health-related and biotech programs.
The second building, the Center for Student Services, will provide a revolutionary process for enrolling students, who will be able to conduct their enrollment process at one counter instead of making multiple stops. My fellow Freeholders and I allocated $3.4 million dollars in capital funds for the science building project and $6 million dollars for the second building.
This year, the Middlesex County Vocational-Technical Schools will reach a major milestone: the 100th anniversary of the district. Programs and class projects will be held throughout 2014 marking the anniversary of the district, which is the oldest County Vocational-Technical School district in the nation. Boasting two National Blue Ribbon designations, the Middlesex County Vocational-Technical school system stands as one of the County’s best assets and offers our students the quality education they need to succeed in today’s technology-driven world.
In addition to the dynamic business portal that will be rolled out this year, the County will explore the creation of a public/private partnership to further build on our Economic Development Strategy. Research is now being conducted on non-profit corporation prototypes present in other New Jersey counties to determine the organizational structure, mission, goals, objectives, activities and funding sources that would best suit our needs and help us boost our local economy.
Under the guidance of Freeholder Blanquita Valenti, we will begin to change the way we do business when it comes to our local human services delivery system. The changes are based on findings from the comprehensive Middlesex County 2020 Needs Assessment completed in 2013, which will assist the County in prioritizing programming and funding in the future.
We will continue our efforts to connect our military veterans to employment, training and education opportunities, transportation and housing through the Veterans Housing Assistance Program. These men and women have put themselves in harm’s way to preserve our freedom. And now that they are home, many are finding themselves homeless or in need of other services. By offering this program, Middlesex County is taking a step toward helping those who served our country.
The Surrogate’s Office is now completing the monumental task of scanning its records dating back to the 1700s up until 1973. By doing so, it is making these historic documents easily viewable by the public and also safeguarding the original texts, which are being archived for preservation. Also in 2014, the office will install new software that combines three programs into one, bringing more efficiency to the office. The new system is expected to go live in April.
Under the guidance of Freeholder James Polos, the County will become more agile and more effective in our disaster response and recovery efforts by building on the lessons learned from Super Storm Sandy.
A complete redesign of the Network Operating Center within the Emergency Operations Center at the Middlesex County Fire Academy is being planned to better prepare, respond and coordinate emergency operations.
The County is investing millions of dollars in communications technology and realigning the physical layout of the operating center to meet our goal of enhancing preparedness, response and recovery.
Using federal, state and our own resources, we will continue our aggressive approach to training and supplying with the most effective tools our staff and emergency responders and volunteers throughout the county to bolster our preparedness and response efforts.
Our Office of Health Services will use grant funds it received in the wake of Super Storm Sandy to work with our community partners in identifying the current public health needs of the communities impacted by the storm and plan for future needs. Grants were received for the Special Child Health Program, the Center for Empowerment, Sexual Violence Counseling, Advocacy and Prevention Education Program and the Public Health Preparedness and Response Program
I have laid out aggressive goals and plans to be tackled over the next year. But as it was once said, “The secret of success is to be ready when your opportunity comes.”
Middlesex County is ready to seize new opportunities because we are building on a strong past and are not afraid to challenge ourselves to perform even more effectively.
We are fortunate to have a Freeholder Board that is committed to raising the quality of life here in the County and who is dedicated to safeguarding the well-being of our citizens.
Our County government is filled with staff who work day-in and day-out to carry out the policies set forth by this Board.
We have built strong and vital relationships with our municipal, state, federal and private-sector partners, and as a result have been able to innovate, create and move forward. Because of this, our boundaries are endless.
And we have a shared sense of duty and responsibility to serve the public and to make Middlesex County, the Greatest County in the Land!
May God bless Middlesex County and may God bless the United States of America.