JANUARY 4, 2013

Middlesex County in 2013: Embracing the New Year
With Leadership, Resilience & Strength


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 2013 reorganization of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.

I welcome back to the dais Freeholder Deputy Director Ronald Rios, Freeholder H. James Polos and Surrogate Kevin J. Hoagland and congratulate them for their victories in this past November’s election. I would ask that we applaud them, not for their victories but for their continued and unwavering dedication to the people of Middlesex County.

 As I begin this, my fourth Director’s Message, I am grateful to my Freeholder colleagues for their confidence in me to lead this Board through 2013.

2012 was a challenging year on many fronts, not the least of which was Superstorm Sandy.

Destroying homes, displacing residents, dismantling infrastructure and causing widespread power outages, Sandy tested our nerve, tested our strength and tested our resolve. Little did Sandy know that we are a strong community of neighbors and friends who stood together during the storm and who helped each other pick up the pieces afterward.

Today I thank and commend all the heroes who were born of the storm: First responders, schools, houses of worship, non-profit organizations, corporations and scores of individuals who did their part to get Middlesex County back on its feet.

I witnessed unparalleled team work and dedication. From the top down and across all departments, our employees pulled together to serve the people of Middlesex County in their time of need. Generators were deployed. Gasoline was procured. Roads and bridges cleared of fallen trees and debris. Medical attention, emergency shelter and food were provided to those in need. I was never more proud of our staff. I tip my hat to Freeholder Ron Rios and Freeholder Jim Polos, who along with myself, spent countless hours at the County command center lending support, expertise and leadership to the response effort.

Middlesex County’s ability to respond rapidly and effectively grew out of the partnerships we have forged with federal and state agencies and our municipalities. Our response is a strong example of how, on a daily basis, our elected officials, administration and staff work collectively to serve our citizens.

Two years ago on this stage, I announced that County Government would be reorganized to become more efficient and more responsive. 2012 was the first full year that our new, streamlined operational structure took hold. I firmly believe that the restructuring of County Government and the establishment of a strong leadership team resulted in a comprehensive, coordinated and unified response to Superstorm Sandy.

Also, it has been this structure and this team that also propelled Middlesex County above the rest. We’ve maintained our Triple A bond rating, continued to drive down the cost of government and established new sources of revenue during one of the most difficult economic times this nation has ever experienced.
We have invested in the safety and maintenance of our roads, bridges and facilities. We have continued to support our awarding-winning Middlesex County College and Vocational schools. We’ve enhanced our programming and services and we have embraced technology to better serve the public.

2013 will be no different. At my direction and with my support, my fellow Freeholders will drive key initiatives and programs. 

Under the leadership of Freeholder Deputy Director Ron Rios, we will answer the need for quality senior housing right here in Middlesex County. We will do this by restoring the historic Roosevelt Hospital to accommodate modern apartments for our senior citizens.

The project will enable us to maintain and strengthen the historic façade, while adapting the inside layout for apartment units. In future phases, other areas of the building will house the medical and social services our seniors need to allow them to maintain their independence.

Once again, Freeholder Rios will lead the Middlesex County Veterans Housing Assistance Program. This is a workable, sustainable plan that will prevent and end homelessness for our military veterans and is consistent with our 10-year plan to end homelessness in the County. While federal dollars exist to help veterans with rental assistance, our program does more. It provides help in paying rental arrears, security deposits, temporary rental assistance and help in finding suitable housing. I commend Ron for spearheading a program that will help our nation’s true heroes.

Under the leadership of Freeholder Carol Barrett Bellante, liaison to the County’s Open Space and Recreation Trust Fund, we will explore the possibility of building a minor league ballpark in the southern part of the County at no cost to the taxpayers. The state-of-the art facility would be the product of a public-private partnership and house a minor league team, such as the extremely successful and popular Somerset Patriots. It also will offer a perfect venue for other popular events such as outdoor concerts and festivals. This will be an incredible addition to the other recreational opportunities our County offers.

In her role as chair of the Finance Committee, Freeholder Barrett Bellante will oversee the expansion of the Middlesex County Wellness Program. Designed to help our employees find long-term health and wellness solutions, the program will include stop-smoking and nutrition programs, medical advice and personalized wellness plans.

This program will be fully funded by our insurance carriers. Once integrated, the program will result in healthier employees, lower absentee rates, and an anticipated 20 percent reduction in the County’s health care costs.

Since becoming a Freeholder in 1990, Stephen J. “Pete” Dalina has been the force behind the expansion of our Parks system from nine parks to 21. Over the years, he has skillfully supervised the constant upgrading and updating of our facilities.

Whether it’s the Level Playing Fields complex, the Family Skating Rink, adding cricket pitches and turf fields or using solar panels to power our comfort stations, we have made changes large and small to enhance the recreational experience for our residents.

Freeholder Dalina and the Parks and Recreation staff will continue that tradition in 2013. A new remote-control lighting system will be installed to drive down utility costs and energy use at all our facilities. We will begin a major project at Merrill Park in Woodbridge that will embrace modern park design and increase safety and accessibility by separating vehicular and pedestrian traffic and adding new walking paths.

In addition, the Planning and Parks Offices will collaborate on the possible expansion of the Middlesex Greenway farther into Woodbridge to the east and into South Plainfield to the west. 

Under the leadership of Freeholder H. James Polos, the Department of Public Safety and Health will continue in 2013 to expand its initiatives and programs. In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, Freeholder Polos took the lead in developing with the Freeholder Board, a recovery plan for the County which included engaging the services of a former New Jersey State Police Lt. Colonel with significant Emergency Management experience, who is well versed in recovery and rebuild procedures. This is essential in order to assist our municipalities with their recovery efforts. We need to do everything possible to help our communities with the complicated FEMA funding application process and coordination necessary to access funds for rebuilding our communities. Our new Recovery Coordinator will begin work immediately.

In light of the tragic events that unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut last month, Freeholder Polos, who chairs our Task Force on School Violence and Emergency Preparedness, will initiate the School Training And Response Teams – or  START--  which is a program to better prepare schools and communities for school emergencies. I am proud of the work of the School Violence Task Force, which I have supported since its creation 10 years ago. The plans and procedures the group developed became the foundation for the K-12 State School Security Task Force report.

Freeholder Polos also will be focusing on the volunteer emergency service ranks in the County with the goal of maintaining and growing membership through innovative programs and incentives. These will be developed with information obtained from volunteers in a series of focus group meetings. We could not have made it through Superstorm Sandy without the hard work and dedication of our volunteers.

Under the leadership of Freeholder Charles E. Tomaro, I am proud to announce that the Solar Panel Project at our Apple Orchard Lane complex in North Brunswick has gone live. This means the County has already begun reaping the benefits of using environmentally friendly power generation that will save our taxpayers $1 million dollars each year for the next 15 years.

Freeholder Tomaro also has been instrumental in developing plans for our Department of Business Development and Education, which will soon debut its signature project -- a web-based business resource tool – that will create and expand municipal and public/private partnerships, attract new business and help existing business grow. By placing it on the web, we are ensuring that it is accessible to anyone located anywhere in the world.

Over the years, Middlesex County has had an effective partner in the Middlesex County Regional Chamber of Commerce, but in 2013, we will increase our collaboration with the organization as two very exciting prospects lay on the horizon. First, it was recently announced that Rutgers University will be joining the celebrated Big Ten conference. Then, in 2014, MetLife Stadium, home to the New York Giants and New York Jets, will host the Super Bowl. Each will bring national television coverage and, most importantly, increased travel and tourism dollars to our County. Our hotels, restaurants, theaters and historic and cultural offerings will benefit greatly. To prepare for these fantastic economic opportunities, the Chamber and its Convention and Visitor’s Bureau will host the Central Jersey Tourism Conference next Thursday, January 10. This is another great example of how government and private and public entities can work together to foster economic growth.

Under the leadership of Freeholder Blanquita B. Valenti, Chair of the County’s Community Services Committee, the welfare of the County’s most vulnerable residents will continue to be safeguarded by the successful delivery of quality programs.

Middlesex County takes pride in the outstanding service and care provided by the staff at Raritan Bay Mental Health Clinic. In 2013, these services will become even more effective and the staff will achieve even greater productivity as a new Electronic Health Record system is installed. This system, at the cutting-edge of patient care, will improve efficiency for medical and support staff. More importantly, the technology will free up professional staff to better serve the Clinic’s clients.

Freeholder Valenti also will guide the Office of Aging and Disabled Services in 2013 as it embarks on a Community Outreach to educate residents on the many services the office provides. I commend the Office for enhancing its response to our residents.

To all of you gathered here today, I pledge to you that this Board of Chosen Freeholders will continue to harness our resources, work with our partners and develop new ideas to serve our residents. We will continue to strive toward excellence in County Government, never resting on past achievements. We will ensure that Middlesex County is not just a place on a map.

It is the best place to live, to work and to raise a family. Middlesex County is home.

And as they say, there’s no place like home.

Happy New Year and God Bless.