Annual Freeholder Director's Message
The Year 2002
Freeholder Director David B. Crabiel
Friday, January 4, 2002
My distinguished Freeholder colleagues, Reverend Clergy, other elected officials, citizens of Middlesex County and county staff:
Welcome to this Reorganization meeting of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
Once again it is my high honor to accept the responsibilities of Freeholder Director assigned to me by my Freeholder colleagues and I thank them for being so kind to me and allowing me to lead our county government into the New Year.
I do so fully aware of the impact upon all of us of the tragic events of September 11 and the fact that the acts of terrorism that unfolded that day were the worst to strike any people at any time in the history of the world. Indeed, given the fact that 57 citizens of our county were among those killed or missing in the attack on the World Trade Center, it is difficult for us to focus upon the successes, the work in progress and the future goals of county government.
Many of us believe, as I do, that the terrorist planners hoped to bring our country to its knees and to cast our government into disarray. But they were wrong. They seriously misjudged the character of the American people.
While preparing this Director's Message, I reviewed the message I delivered last year. Most of the agenda outlined in the message for 2001 involved advances in technology designed to improve education, service delivery, and citizen/government access.
Who could have known, at the time I delivered those remarks that the world would change on September 11, 2001. Who could have known that so much emphasis would be placed on security and emergency management rather than the more traditional county services.
I knew that dedicating our Veterans' Memorial would be a fitting way to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor, but who could have known that just prior to its dedication, we would again be attacked without provocation and that the Memorial would also serve to honor our brave servicemen and women in the ongoing war against terrorism. Let us all pray that 2002 will be a year of peace, free from tragedy or loss, that county government will be able to devote all of its attention to providing high quality county services to our residents and making the "Greatest County in the Land" an even better place to live.
Here in Middlesex County, were it not for those tragic events and their aftermath, all of us could look back upon the year 2001 with great pride. In fact, those of us involved in Middlesex County government do look back with a very special pride that last year was a truly great year in our county's history.
In November, our Sheriff, Joe Spicuzzo, Freeholders Jane Brady, Pete Dalina and Chris Rafano were re-elected with huge pluralities. We congratulate them on their tremendous victory, because their re-election was an endorsement of the stewardship and accomplishments of this administration.
I am particularly delighted that, in eleven days, our favorite son, Mayor Jim McGreevey of Woodbridge will take his oath of office as the 51st Governor of our State.
In my view, that will be a great day for our state, for our county and for all the people we serve. Governor McGreevey carried our county by more than 50,000 votes, and we are very proud of that.
I am also proud that, here in Middlesex County government works.
Under the leadership of Freeholder Jane Brady, the safety and the welfare of our Senior Citizens is enhanced because of the Carrier-Link Program utilizing postal carriers. We also opened the newly expanded Raritan Bay Mental Health Center and the Children's Room at the Family Court. We are second to none in Human Services.
Under the leadership of Freeholder Pete Dalina, giant steps have been taken through the expansion, maintenance and renovation of our outstanding system of county parks. We dedicated the new Alvin P. Williams Memorial Park at Sewaren Peninsula in October. Major improvements at Donaldson Park, Raritan Bay Waterfront Park (including a nature study area) in the Laurence Harbor section of Old Bridge and South Amboy Waterfront Park are underway. Engineering and design of the John A. Phillips Preserve (100 acres) has commenced.
Under the leadership of Freeholder Camille Fernicola, we have the best recycling program in the State, ranked #1 in New Jersey with 64.1% of the waste stream recycled, exceeding the State goal of 60% for the fifth consecutive year. Additionally, in 2001, 1,440 acres of new open space was acquired, placed under contract or in negotiation using the Open Space Trust Fund, making a total of 5,605 acres.
Under the leadership of Freeholder Jim Polos, our county's infrastructure, including our public facilities and public streets and roads are improved and maintained to benefit the quality of life of all of us. The Middlesex County on Patrol Program to report crime and help keep our streets safe was initiated.
His committee also saved the property taxpayers of the county a great deal by resurfacing county and local roads, performing construction work in-house and assisting municipalities with joint bulk purchasing.
Under the leadership of Freeholder John Pulomena, we have actively begun our program to place a computer in every classroom in our county. Over 725 computers have been distributed so far. His committee also initiated a sophisticated computerized Emergency Notification System, through the Health Department, so that residents can be quickly notified of public health problems or other emergencies throughout the county.
Particularly since September 11, under the leadership of Freeholder Chris Rafano, Public Safety in our county has emerged with the highest possible priority overviewed by our Office of Emergency Management. We have entered into a contract with the Federal Government to utilize space in the County Correction Facility, which will reduce the burden on our property taxpayers by $5.1 million per year, and we have also initiated a number of new programs to efficiently manage the Correction Facility.
Under my own leadership of the Department of Administration and Finance, we have continued to live within our means with stabilized county property taxation. We enjoy the lowest per capita cost of county government in New Jersey.
During 2001, the Board of Chosen Freeholders was able to reduce the county equalized property tax rate, increase the retained surplus of the county by one million dollars, and obtain, for the first time a Triple A bond rating from Standard and Poor's, with the comment "The county's financial operations are strong."
The Middlesex County Children's Commission, chaired by Mary Varga Crabiel, was recognized by the State of New Jersey as one of the most successful referral agencies in the State for New Jersey Kidcare and New Jersey Family Care programs, enrolling approximately 7,500 eligible families during 2001.
I am also proud that we dedicated the Veterans' Memorial at Roosevelt Park.
These few highlighted accomplishments of each of my Freeholder colleagues does little justice to the tireless service each performs in the public interest, and the proof is all around us. I believe our county government is without equal anywhere in our State and the quality of life we all enjoy is testimony to our Freeholders' service and the dedication and conscientious service of our county staff and employees.
As we enter this new year, while we are humbled by the events of September 11, we look forward to continuing progress to benefit our 750,000 plus citizens.
We will quickly reach out to the Mayors of each of our 25 communities to invite their participation in the growing success of our open space preservation program. On Election Day this past November, our voters, in their wisdom, approved a 2¢ increase per $100 of equalized assessed valuation in the property tax -for a total of 3¢- with those revenues dedicated to the acquisition, preservation and improvement of open space in our county. We will ask of our Mayors-"What sites within your borders do you want the county to consider for potential acquisition to enhance and enlarge our open space inventory?"
With the input from the Mayors, we will then create a new open space Master Plan using the revenues derived from that 2¢ increase to leverage some $80 million dollars in open space funds. The Public Question approved by the voters also allows us to preserve existing farmland as farmland and to make capital improvements in existing parks.
We applaud the voters of our county for their wisdom in voting Yes on the Open Space Public Question.
All of us share a growing concern regarding the reported billion-plus dollar revenue shortfall that confronts the State of New Jersey in its current fiscal year. These concerns are magnified by a budget shortfall that will confront the new administration in Trenton. I list these concerns because we, as a county, are a subdivision of the State and we depend upon the State for certain grants in aid and property tax relief funds that could be adversely impacted because of problems at the State level.
On December 11, of last year, to prepare for the 2002 Budget, we enacted a freeze on hiring and salary modifications. The freeze may be partially lifted on February 7th of this year.
Our goal continues to be that Middlesex County will live within its means. While our debt service is up, so is our growth in ratables. We do pledge to reduce the equalized property tax rate in our county again this year.
We will continue to keep the press and the public advised as our budget deliberations unfold.
There are a few other items and visions the Board will work on or hopefully consider this year.
Finally and perhaps most importantly, we will take steps to serve those residents most in need of our help.
These are among the goals and aspirations of your county government as we enter the year 2002. We have entered the new millennium with measurable progress and great promise for the future. We believe we have built a strong foundation that will help assure continued improvement in the quality of life for all our citizens. We will depend upon the talent and commitment of our county employees and upon the skill and commitment of the governing bodies elected to serve in all of our 25 communities.
I would be remiss if I did not commend the stewardship of our Improvement Authority, Utilities Authority, Vocational School and County College Boards, and their staffs, all of our volunteers who add to our success.
It has been said that, since September 11, life in our country will be different. As I close these remarks, I want all our citizens to know that, like them, we in county government share an awareness that our country and, of course, our county is now vulnerable to potential terrorist activity.
But, equally important I want our citizens to know that we not only share an awareness but we will also assure our readiness to respond to crises, to cooperate fully with other government entities at all levels and to put the welfare and the safety of the citizens of this county above all else.
As a county government, we pledge, that to the best of our ability we will make a positive difference for all our citizens.
Mary and I say Happy New Year to one and all, and may God bless America.
Gerald Stanley Lee once said-"America is a tune. It must be sung together."
Our fine citizens are together, united together, and because of that fact Middlesex County will continue to be "The Greatest County in the Land."