2001 STATE OF THE COUNTY MESSAGE
FREEHOLDER DAVID B. CRABIEL
October 18, 2001
The last 12 months have been an extremely active and productive period for Middlesex County Government. We opened an Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies, as part of our Vocational-Technical High School system. We distributed over 725 modern computers to classrooms K through 12 throughout the county as part of our Tech 2000 Program, and the County's bond rating was upgraded to Triple A by a major bond rating firm. Under normal circumstances, it would be clear that Middlesex County, as a result of these and other initiatives, was a better place today than it was twelve months ago. Unfortunately, because of the unspeakable tragedy, which occurred within sight of our County Seat on September 11th, I must tell you that that is not the case. Fifty-seven Middlesex County residents are either known dead or still reported missing following the terrorist attack. The loss of 57 of our neighbors makes our community a poorer place.
Many other residents of the county were injured physically, or directly witnessed violent and upsetting events which people should never have to see especially during peacetime. They and their families, and all of us, will be dealing with the impact of that experience for a long time to come.
Recognizing that the accomplishments of our county administration this year may pale in comparison with these terrible events and their consequences, let me simply list some of Middlesex County's milestones over the last 12 months.
First, let me tell you some general information on Middlesex County and its economy. The 2000 Census Reports indicate that Middlesex County's population now exceeds 750,000 people. During the last decade, Middlesex County experienced a growth rate of 11.7%, surpassing by more than one-third the New Jersey State growth rate of 8.6% for the same period. Since 1990, the equalized assessed valuation of Middlesex County real property has increased by $3.5 billion. The equalized assessed valuation of Middlesex County has actually doubled during the last 15 years.
From January to December 2000, Middlesex County benefited from the creation of 18,300 new jobs. During the first two quarters of 2001, an additional 4,200 new jobs were created. The unemployment rate in Middlesex County through the second quarter of 2001 was 4%. This continues to be lower than the unemployment average for the United States, as well as the State of New Jersey.
According to the New Jersey Department of Labor, Middlesex County will remain the State's job-growth leader through the next seven years, and is projected by the State of New Jersey to have the largest projected employment increase in New Jersey by 2008. State projections also indicate that there will be more professional work and operator/fabricator/laborer jobs created in Middlesex County than in any other county in New Jersey over the next several years.
In terms of gross domestic products, the Middlesex/Somerset/Hunterdon Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) ranked 83rd in the world, exceeding countries such as Hungary, New Zealand, Syria and the Dominican Republic. The Middlesex MSA ranked 52nd among all MSA's and states in the United States for "high-tech output" exceeding the output of South Carolina, Tennessee, Kansas, Alabama and several other states. The Middlesex MSA, of which Middlesex County forms the population base, continues to maintain the third highest level of disposable family income in the United States.
During 2001, as a result of a very strong Middlesex County economy, Standard & Poor's Bond Rating Service upgraded its rating of Middlesex County bonds from AA+ to a Triple A, its highest rating. Standard & Poor's joined both Moody's and Fitch in rating Middlesex County bonds Triple A. This Triple A bond rating by the three major national rating firms reflects Middlesex County's strong and diverse economic base as well as the high quality of its financial management. The Standard & Poor's upgrade was a direct result of Middlesex County's "strong employment and tax base growth, coupled with the maintenance of a solid debt and fiscal profile" according to S&P.
Fitch, IBCA, Duff & Phelps Service also announced its intention to continue to rate Middlesex County Triple A, but eliminated the "rating watch negative" qualifier, which it adopted last year. The removal of the "negative watch" qualifier by Fitch was "due to the county's successful efforts in establishing a long-term solution for Roosevelt Care Center", according to Fitch.
Now, let me tell you about the accomplishments of the seven Freeholder Committees beginning with the Freeholder Committee on Engineering and Planning chaired by Freeholder Camille Fernicola:
· The Middlesex County recycling rate for 1999, the last reported year, was 64.1%. This was the fifth consecutive year that Middlesex County has met and exceeded New Jersey's recycling goal of 60% of the total solid waste stream. For the last reported year, Middlesex County ranked #1 in the State of New Jersey for recycling.
· The paint drop-off program exceeded the one million pound mark for un-used and un-wanted paint, and a ninth paint drop-off site was opened at the public works facility in Woodbridge.
· Funded by a New Jersey D.E.P. grant, the Division of Solid Waste, together with several other county departments, has developed a program to eliminate improperly-stored scrap tires throughout the county.
· A new consumer electronic drop-off program was established to recycle items such as computers, televisions, and other consumer-related products containing toxic materials.
· Under the Home Improvement Partnership Program, $2.6 million in gap-financing for 318 units of newly constructed affordable senior citizen housing in four different municipalities helped to leverage $23 million in other financing. Additionally, $350,000 was used to purchase condominiums for use as affordable rentals leveraging an additional $800,000 in investment.
· Under the Community Development Block Grant Program, $2.3 million provided improvements in low-income neighborhoods, and programs for senior citizen and disabled citizens, and 41 owner-occupied homes were rehabbed.
· Public Housing Agency received an additional $7 million in Federal funding to improve housing for low-income, elderly, and disabled residents, and partial rent was paid for 500 very low-income families.
· Under the Farmland Preservation Program, which has preserved 2600 acres of farmland to date, has approximately 450 additional acres in the final stages of preservation. Further, there are applications pending, which will add a further 590 acres of farmland to the Preservation Program.
· During the last 12 months, 788 additional acres of open space has been acquired, placed under contract or is presently in negotiation for purchase from the Open Space Trust Fund. This is in addition to over 4600 acres already acquired by the Trust Fund.
· Middlesex County has completed its underground storage tank remediation program and is one of only a few counties that is in full compliance with State regulations for underground fuel storage tanks owned by the county.
Next, let me highlight some accomplishments of the Freeholder Committee on Human Services chaired by Freeholder Jane Z. Brady:
· The Department of Human Services recently opened a children's waiting room in the Family Court. This waiting room will allow children, whose parents are litigants in the Family Court, to be supervised in pleasant surroundings so that it is not necessary for them to witness the acrimonious exchange between their parents. Children in the waiting room are supervised by the Raritan Valley YMCA and have numerous recreational opportunities available.
· The Division of Children's Services received a grant of $573,000 from the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission to provide community alternatives to sentencing in a juvenile detention facility. These funds will be used to implement a countywide drug treatment program and aftercare component. The division also hosted an Anger Management Training Program and, utilizing another State Grant of $625,000, provides support services in the area of delinquency prevention, detention overcrowding and sentence alternatives, as well as treatment of sex offenders. The division is developing a new Advocacy Program, additional in-home counseling slots, a program for teen high-risk behavior, delinquency prevention, life skills training, mentoring, advocacy, drug and alcohol services, and fire-starter evaluations.
· The Area-wide Transportation System (AWTS) has provided 200,000 trips to seniors and disabled residents of the County during the last 12 months. The system has purchased eleven new vehicles, hired a new scheduler to assist in routing and scheduling passengers, and expanded services to include clients from the Ryan White Program, Veteran's Services, Children's Services, and Welfare-to-Work programs. The addition of computer-assisted mapping helps to make the program more energy and cost efficient.
· The Office on Aging serviced 9,068 requests for Medicare counseling, handled 7,618 calls for assistance involving working caregivers, and helped to train 58 caregivers. The Care Management/Home Care Assistance unit serviced 345 new clients under five programs, and 1500 seniors in eight different municipalities each received $20 vouchers to obtain fresh New Jersey-grown fruits and vegetables.
· The Senior Meals Program increased participation by 11,000 meals and provided home-delivered meals for 42 additional seniors.
· The Office for the Disabled initiated a Recycling and Donation Program for used computers, where local agencies and businesses may donate used computers for use by persons with disabilities.
· The Middlesex County Veteran's Advisory Council held the first Operation Recognition ceremony as part of which veterans, who left high school to join the service, were awarded high school diplomas.
· The Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services published a first-of-its-kind resource directory for mental health consumers entitled "The Physical Health Care Resource Guide for Mental Health Consumers". This guide was distributed widely to service agencies, libraries, clergy, and mental health facilities.
· The Middlesex County Employment & Training Department established a job search service, as well as a program of transportation services to assist low-income and welfare clients getting to and from work and job training.
· The Middlesex County Youth Detention Facility continued to serve as a model for juvenile correction facilities and has been toured by representatives from most New Jersey counties, as well as from Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. The facility has implemented a GED course for residents, who can obtain a general education diploma. This program helps juveniles leaving the facility obtain employment so that they can maintain a crime-free lifestyle.
· The Juvenile Detention Facility has also begun to offer anger-management classes to residents, and opened a chapter of Narcotics Anonymous to residents.
· The Middlefields Group Home Program became a Medicaid provider during 2001. This allowed the program to expand its services to youth by providing job placement, family counseling, and preparation for independent living courses. Additionally, the ability to receive Medicaid reimbursement resulted in a savings of approximately $100,000 per year to our property taxpayers.
Now, I will tell you about some of the accomplishments of the Freeholder Committee of Law and Public Safety chaired by Freeholder Christopher D. Rafano:
· The Integrated Law Enforcement System and Emergency Notification System were both put into service and offered for use to municipalities and local police departments. A program of video arraignment has been established for inmates at our Adult Corrections Facility and video arraignment services are also being provided to Woodbridge and South Plainfield. This service has also been offered to other municipalities in an effort to reduce inmate transportation costs.
· The Middlesex County Adult Corrections Facility was found to be 100% in compliance with State inspection criteria for the eighth consecutive year.
· An adult Substance Abuse Program has been instituted in the Adult Corrections Facility to help reduce drug-related repeat offenses. A community service program has been implemented to provide a sentencing alternative allowing Courts to sentence selected offenders to perform labor for the benefit of the public rather than being incarcerated. Participants in the program provide meaningful community service and are charged an intake fee of $50 to join the program, as well as $2 per day for the duration of their sentences. In addition to the public work completed, the County has collected $11,000 in program fees and has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars from the cost of incarceration. Inmate labor, under the Clean Community Program, has provided valuable clean-up and maintenance services to several county agencies, as well as 16 different municipalities throughout the County.
· The Middlesex County Fire Academy has added new courses including strategies and tactics, fire incident pre-planning, basement fires, fire operation at strip malls, thermal imaging and instructor update classes. Additionally, we recently ordered a mobile Fire Training House to train young children how to respond in a fire emergency. Additionally, racial profiling training has been provided for all local and county law enforcement agencies.
· During 2001 the Department of Consumer Affairs has begun to offer on-line services to residents, who may now search potential vendors for complaints and, also, file complaints against vendors electronically. During the last twelve months, the Department of Consumer Affairs received 1610 complaints, processed 138 Municipal Court violations, received $33,325 in fines and costs returned to the County, and returned $338,813 to consumers.
· The Department of Weights & Measures purchased a new Octane analyzer to check gasoline octane at the pump. The Department is also using a new price scanner gun to check commodities sold in retail stores and supermarkets. To date, $30,000 in scanner fines have been collected using this device.
· The Middlesex County Board of Elections began conducting Countywide elections with its new computer voting system. Additionally, using the local election management system, the Board of Elections has been able to remove 35,000 inactive voters from its database. Removing these inactive voters resulted in a savings to our county property taxpayers of $28,800 annually.
· The Middlesex County Surrogate's Office upgraded its computer system, which will allow it to continue to serve the population of the State's third most populous county, while ranking ninth in number of Surrogate's employees. Additionally, the Surrogate's Office produced revenue of nearly $600,000 during the year 2000, an increase of nearly 33% over 1999.
· The Middlesex County Clerk's Office, during the last 12 months, handled approximately 200,000 more recorded documents than the same period of the previous year. This resulted in an increase in County Clerk's revenues of approximately $700,000. The Clerk's office has begun to use its new computerized map IMAGE system.
· This Freeholder committee coordinated Middlesex County emergency aid to New York City following the September 11th terrorist attack. The aid provided to New York included 54 ambulances with 170 EMS personnel, 20 pieces of fire apparatus, 156 firefighters, and 138 law enforcement officers. The Middlesex County Hazardous Materials Response Unit assisted in the decontamination of thousands of individuals leaving New York City.
Now, let me highlight the accomplishments of the Committee of Parks & Recreation chaired by Deputy Freeholder Director Stephen J. "Pete" Dalina:
· On November 17th we will dedicate the Middlesex County Veteran's Memorial located in Roosevelt Park.
· Planning and design work has begun on the "Level Playing Fields". The new and unique athletic facility, completely barrier free, which will enable residents with severe mental and physical disabilities to participate in team sports such as baseball, basketball, softball, football, and soccer. The complex will include barrier-free restrooms, ample handicapped parking, as well as a barrier-free playground for young children.
· The Cultural & Heritage Commission opened the newly restored Six Mile Run House at East Jersey Olde Town Village. The commission was also awarded a Certificate of Excellence for its Folk Arts Program, and was designated as a major arts service provider.
There have been improvements made or proposed in a number of County parks, they are as follows:
· Roosevelt Park - A new family ice-skating facility is being designed.
· Raritan Bay Waterfront Park - A nature study area is planned and is scheduled for completion in the Summer of 2002.
· Old Bridge Waterfront Park - "Phase I" of the walkway, consisting of 1.3 miles from Cheesequake Creek to Margaret's Creek, is completed. Ancillary buildings will be completed by the Spring of 2002. "Phase II" of the walkway, from Margaret's Creek to the Monmouth County border, approximately one mile, is now in design.
· Alvin P. Williams Memorial Park at Sewaren Peninsula - site cleanup is completed and the construction of recreational facilities will be completed in mid-October 2001. Dedication of this facility is scheduled for Saturday, October 27, 2001, at 2:00 P.M.
· South Amboy Waterfront Park - design has been completed for the walk/bikeway and restoration of the waterfront, construction is scheduled to begin during 2002.
· John A. Phillip Preservation Park - a master plan for 100 acres of active recreational facilities will be completed in November 2001.
· Donaldson Park - a master plan for a boat ramp and restoration of all facilities was completed in the Summer of 2001 with construction to begin at the end of 2002.
· Edison Park - field renovation and modernization was completed early in 2001.
This has been a very active year for the Freeholder Committee of Public Works chaired by Freeholder H. James Polos:
· The department of Public Property completely renovated the original facilities at Raritan Bay Mental Health Center, including the floors, walls, and ceiling, amounting to 7,000 square feet of floors and ceiling and 28,000 square feet of painting. The staff of the department also relocated the employees from the Raritan Bay Mental Health Clinic to the Perth Amboy location.
· The Department of Public Property renovated and repaired over 100 items at the Middlesex County Fire Academy, renovated the office of the Planning Board, installed a concrete patio and 60 feet of sidewalk at the Juvenile Detention Center, built and installed approximately 45 feet of counter space for the County Clerk, and remodeled space for the Division of Environmental Health and the Rape Crisis Center.
· During the years 2000, 2001 the Department of Highways and Bridges has resurfaced 92 local roads in seven municipalities, done major resurfacing work at two county golf courses, resurfaced parking lots for the Vocational-Technical High Schools in East Brunswick, Piscataway and Woodbridge, and resurfaced three schools parking lots in Sayreville.
· The Department of Highways & Bridges has milled 130,000 square yards and has laid 150,000 tons of asphalt on County and local roads during the years 2000 and 2001.
· The Department of Highways & Bridges has conducted numerous safety training classes. Additionally, the department has responded to nearly 400 emergency calls during 2000 and 2001, and has dealt with six snow emergencies with a total accumulation of 41.4 inches of snow.
Education and Public Health throughout the County have benefited from the activities of the Committee of Public Health and Education chaired by Freeholder John Pulomena:
· This year the County will be distributing approximately 725 computers to classrooms K through 12 throughout the County. This is the first of five annual computer purchases to be made by the County as part of the Tech 2000 program, which is designed to place a state-of-the-art computer in every classroom in Middlesex County.
· The Vocational-Technical High School system opened the new Academy of Science, Math and Engineering Technologies and established a virtual learning academy during the past year.
· The Vocational-Technical High School system became an Internet provider and provides internet and e-mail service for school districts in Edison, Metuchen, Sayreville, and South River, as well as the Diocese of Metuchen.
· The Vocational-Technical High School also began construction of a new school in Perth Amboy to replace an old and inadequate facility.
· The Middlesex County Cooperative Extension Service provided educational programs for over 500 landscapers and families, created and aired ten 30-minute TV episodes, created an award-winning web site, which received ten State regional and national Awards, and provided educational information to over 7,000 Middlesex County residents.
· The Middlesex County Public Health Department developed and Implemented a task force to deal with bio-terrorism, cyber-terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
· The Health Department acquired and initiated a computerized Emergency Notification System.
· The Department has conducted a surveillance program to help prevent the spread of West Nile Virus, has developed a public health web site, and has prepared a community health needs assessment for every community in its service area.
· The Health Department administered over 12,000 influenza and pneumococcal immunizations at 36 sites throughout the county free-of-charge to county residents. The department also administered 7,332 immunizations to 2,119 children free-of-charge.
· The Environmental Division of the Health Department conducted over 3,600 air pollution control inspections, 8,500 solid waste and recycling inspections, and 2,200 air pollution control activities. Fines of $157,401 were collected from violators of environmental laws in Middlesex County.
· The Public Health Department together with the Middlesex County Mosquito Extermination Commission cooperated in the surveillance and prevention efforts designed to stop the spread of West Nile Virus. The two departments collected dead birds, analyzed mosquito pools, and made efforts to eliminate illegally discarded or stored tires, which can become the habitat for the mosquitoes which transmit West Nile Virus.
And finally, some initiatives proposed by me or accomplishments of the Committee of Administration and Finance, which I chair:
· During the last year we were able to downsize County Government by eliminating 88 positions, primarily through attrition. This downsizing of County Government will result in an annual savings to our property taxpayers of $3,801,966.86.
· We continue to maintain a Triple A bond rating by both Moody and Fitch bond rating agencies and, this year, were able to convince Standard & Poors to upgrade their AA+ rating to a Triple A.
· Within the next 30 days the Information Technology Department will have E-mail installed throughout the County Administration in order to make County Government more efficient and cost effective.
· We have placed on the ballot this November a referendum whereby the residents of Middlesex County can choose to increase the amount raised each year for the county Open Space Trust Fund from one cent per hundred dollars of equalized assessed valuation to three cents per hundred dollars of equalized assesses valuation. Since the fund was originally created, we have obtained over 4,600 acres, which will be preserved as open space, and we have several hundred more acres either in negotiation for acquisition or under contract.
· We have upgraded both our financial software and payroll system.
· We have retained both an architect and project manager to design a brand new 180-bed state-of-the-art extended care facility to replace Roosevelt Care Center, which is out-of-date and inadequate by today's standards of extended care. It is our goal to have this new facility open and ready to receive residents from the old facility by July, 2004.
· Plans have been completed and Devco/Keating is prepared to begin renovations of the old County Administration Building and old Courthouse. We expect these renovations to begin by the end of 2001 or the beginning of 2002.
· In the 2001 Budget we increased the retained surplus of the County by slightly more than $1 million to $11,007,686 compared with a retained surplus of $2,325,644 when I took office in 1994.
· The old County Annex in North Brunswick was sold to the highest bidder at the end of the year 2000. This sale realized $1.2 million, which was used to help reduce the burden on our property taxpayers.
· The Middlesex County Children's Commission, chaired by Mary Varga Crabiel, in partnership with the State of New Jersey and the Middlesex County Board of Social Services, implemented the In-Court Facilitator Pilot Program, which is designed to help eligible families appearing before the Family Court obtain health insurance through the New Jersey Family Care Program. The Children's Commission was also one of the most successful referral agencies for NJ KidCare and New Jersey Family Care enrolling approximately 7,500 eligible families over the last 12 months.
This list of the accomplishments of the Middlesex County Administration over the last 12 months is by no means exhaustive and was intended simply to highlight some of the most significant milestones achieved. It is clear from these highlights that a great deal was accomplished.
It was and continues to be the goal of this Freeholder Board to maintain and improve both the quality and variety of county services offered to our residents; to reduce, wherever possible, the burden on our property taxpayers; to ensure, to the extent possible, the availability of a suitable job for every member of our workforce; to preserve our Open Space; to provide for the safety and security of our residents; and to maintain the high quality of life Middlesex County residents have come to expect. We did not finish the job during the last year, in fact, the job never will be finished but, as Freeholder Pulomena is fond of saying, we did make "progress".
In closing, I would like to commend the Freeholder Committee Chairs and their staff, and encourage them to keep up the good work for another year. Unfortunately, more important than any congratulations, I must also extend our deepest and most profound sympathy to those residents who lost family and friends and loved ones in the terrible tragedy on September 11th. God willing, this will be the only State of the County message where congratulations must take second place to condolences