2005 STATE OF THE COUNTY MESSAGE
FREEHOLDER DAVID B. CRABIEL


October 6, 2005

 

2005 was an extremely productive year for Middlesex County Government. As I highlight the accomplishments of the various Freeholder Committees, I am sure everyone will agree that the people of Middlesex County were, once again, well served by this County Administration. The achievements and accomplishments, which I will briefly mention, did not occur by accident. They occurred as a result of the commitment of this Board of Chosen Freeholders to provide the very best in County Government for our residents at the minimum possible cost.

This commitment is reflected by the level of service regularly provided by county staff and by the long term tax record of this county, which is arguably the best in the State of New Jersey. The excellent quality of County Government services when combined with the uniquely high quality of life to be enjoyed in Middlesex County has, at least partially, led to the appreciation of nearly $10 billion in the total equalized assessed valuation of property in the county over the last 12 months, and an increase of nearly 85% in the total equalized assessed valuation of property in the county over the last 12 years.

Now, let me share with you some examples of the many important advances achieved by Middlesex County Government during the last year.

The Board of Chosen Freeholders reduced the county property tax rate for the 13th consecutive year.

 

All of our Freeholder Committees have been extremely productive during 2005. Some highlights of the work of the Freeholder Committee of Engineering & Planning, under the conscientious leadership of Freeholder Camille Fernicola include:

The County Engineer’s Department awarded contracts to begin construction of the New Brunswick Landing project. The department also completed 24 construction projects in nine municipalities, and is maintaining 181 active projects. Following damage from the severe storm of July 17th, 2005, emergency repairs to Forsgate Drive were completed in seven weeks.

The Division of Solid Waste initiated a paper-shredding program through which 147 residents delivered 6,180 pounds of paper for shredding and recycling. 34,450 pounds of household batteries have been collected in fifty recycling sites around the county. Inmate work details from the Adult Correction Center have collected 5,000 bags of litter from 18 municipalities; 602,000 pounds of consumer electronic equipment were recycled through the Consumer Electronics Drop-off Program; 7,758 unusable propane tanks have been recycled and replaced, and 1,310 residents have exchanged 1,892 mercury thermometers for new mercury-free digital thermometers.

The Housing & Community Development Department has assisted 595 families with rent payments; provided funding for two affordable senior apartment buildings (one in Old Bridge and one in South River); started the planning process for two additional affordable senior apartment buildings; and has begun or completed the construction of 20 senior housing units in Carteret.

The Planning Division continued to promote the Farmland Preservation Program with acquisition of development rights for 55.37 acres of farmland in the appraisal process, acquisition of development rights for 27.5 acres having received final approval, and easement purchases completed for 101.54 acres. The total acres of farmland preserved in Middlesex County to date are 3,630 acres.

The Route 18 Corridor Pedestrian-Transit Access Enhancement Study from Tower Center in East Brunswick to Route 516 in Old Bridge has been completed as has the I-287 Mobility Plan. The Land Development Review Committee received 706 applications for approval, 648 were deemed acceptable for review and approval, 58 were rejected, and 35 were revised.

 

The Freeholder Committee of Human Services and Aging, which is ably chaired by Freeholder Blanquita Valenti has also had an active year, having achieved the following milestones:

The Department of Human Services has hired a Homeless Case Management Coordinator to follow up with all homeless individuals and families, who contact the Homeless Hotline. Major steps have been taken to improve the county’s Disaster Preparedness for persons with disabilities. A forum entitled “Sheltering in Place and Preparing for Emergencies” has been held; 200 American Red Cross 3-day survival kits have been distributed; accessibility equipment has been purchased for use at shelter sites or vaccination clinics by the disabled during an emergency; and two portable ramps have been purchased for use in primary shelters that are not wheelchair accessible. Project Lifesaver, a program designed to locate disabled residents, that have wandered away from caregivers has been purchased and will be operational shortly.

Middlesex County is now the first county in New Jersey to have developed guidelines for a Comprehensive Mental Health Plan. An Office of Children’s Services was created to enhance delivery of accessible integrated behavioral health-care for children. Workshops have been held on Recognizing Drugs, the Effects of Metamphetamine, the Dangers of Steroids, and methods to identify and deal with Co-occurring Disorders of substance abuse and mental illness. The Department of Human Services also took over responsibility for the Ryan White HIV/Aids Program from the Public Health Department during the last 12 months.

The Department on Aging is expanding the successful Middlesex Rx Program, formerly for seniors, to include all county residents regardless of age or income. To date, 3,000 senior participants have filled 51,438 prescriptions for a total savings of $566,420 at no cost to the County Government. The Senior Meals Program served 342,454 meals to 4,110 unduplicated clients. The proper nutrition represented by these meals has a direct impact on the overall health of the older residents participating in the plan. A mini-White House Conference on Aging was held to formulate recommendations for national policy. Four informational sessions have been scheduled to educate Medicare beneficiaries about the new Medicare Prescription Drug benefits.

 

Freeholder Christopher D. Rafano chairs the Law & Public Safety Committee of the Board. The accomplishments of this committee included:

The Adult Correction Center privatized social services; entered into a Cooperative Transportation Agreement with the Federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; assisted with recovery efforts following the severe storm damage and flooding of July 17th in the Borough of Helmetta; purchased a new Jail Management Computer System; and is in the process of implementing a Video Visitation Project to enhance security and efficiency, and to reduce operating costs at the Correction Center.

The Juvenile Detention Center continues to be a model for centers statewide and was evaluated by the State of New Jersey as “a well operated facility, professional in every aspect”. The facility now offers anger management, gang awareness, and life skills counseling groups. In the Youth Shelter, 75% of the residents successfully completed curriculum requirements of their home school district. The residents of the shelter also raised $1,300 for the McFoods Program and help the Workforce Development Department to prepare two major mailings.

The Sheriff’s Department moved into a new headquarters, and created a Rapid Mobilization Team, of 60-plus officers, to deal with a variety of terrorism scenarios. Six child safety seat inspection clinics were held throughout the county and many new school children participated in the Fingerprint on File child safety program. The office participated in the creation of the Middlesex County Regional Police Data-Sharing Network; created a Forensic Video Analysis Unit and is implementing a mobile computing project.

The Medical Examiner’s Department has moved into a new state-of-the-art facility and is collaborating with U.M.D.N.J. in providing residency training for forensic pathologist students.

The Office of Emergency Management played a key role in the recent Topoff 3 terrorism exercises; coordinated $5 million in Homeland Security Grants for fiscal years ’04 and ’05; developed the only municipal Homeland Security pass-through grant program in New Jersey through which it distributed $1,244,000 in Homeland Security Funds to municipalities; purchased a 32-foot fire rescue boat, and two patrol boats to be operated by municipal police and fire departments; assisted municipalities during the July 17th flooding in the southern part of the county; and received the highest rating possible when evaluated by the New Jersey State Police.

The County Fire Academy purchased a new 75-foot aerial pumper fire truck and a specialized mobile foam fire suppression system. The Academy offered fire safety training to 3,000 children using the Fire Safety Trailer; is upgrading the audio visual equipment in the Amphitheater at the Academy, and has recently dedicated a new 4,765 square foot Burn Building.

The County Clerk’s Office, of Elaine Flynn, initiated a new County I.D. card system; established a passport/I.D. card satellite office in Woodbridge; was second in the State to offer the Kid Print I.D. Program and the first to supplement the program with mobile services. The office is implementing a database, which will share County Clerk’s land transfer records with the County Tax Board and municipal tax offices. The Middlesex County Surrogate’s Office served 1,250 clients in six satellite offices, provided 10,000 copies of informational material, and produced $2,537,000 in revenue to offset county property taxes.

The County Department of Weights & Measures implemented a new program to check the credentials of gas stations and fuel oil companies. The County Counsel’s Department obtained bail forfeitures of $633,176 and established a Protocol and Procedure Policy to be used by the Department of Consumer Affairs in the handling of citizen complaints.

The Board of Elections has registered 40,000 new voters; is implementing the Statewide Voter Registration System; is installing an audio attachment to all voting machines to assist visually impaired voters; and has ensured that all 250 polling places will meet accessibility requirements in the November elections.

 

The Freeholder Committee of Parks and Recreation, chaired by Freeholder Stephen J. “Pete” Dalina has achieved the following milestones:

Phase II of the Old Bridge Waterfront Park was completed in June, 2005. The park was extended by one mile and now includes a “Great Lawn”, a gazebo, a playground, additional parking, scenic outlooks, a self-guided environment education trail, and a canoe/kayak launching area.

Phase II of the John A. Phillips Preserve Park, including new buildings, field lighting, and a cricket pitch, will open in the Spring of 2006. Construction is about to begin on a boat ramp and restoration of all facilities at Donaldson Park. Construction of New Brunswick Landing is about to begin and the project is scheduled for completion in June, 2006. Finally, an engineering plan is underway for the Middlesex County Greenway; new path/exercise trail lighting has been installed at Thomas A. Edison Park; and a new pedestrian access path to Alvin P. Williams Park at the Sewaren Peninsula is under construction.

The Cultural & Heritage Commission has completed the restoration of the Indian Queen Tavern, and has received an American Association for State and National History Award for its publication “Uncommon Clay”, describing the terracotta industry in Middlesex County. The Commission used grant funding to present a yearlong project celebrating “The Traditions of India”.

 

The Freeholder Committee of Public Health & Education, chaired by Freeholder John Pulomena, has had a very busy year, accomplishing the following:

The Public Health Department was a major participant in the International and Multi-state Topoff 3 Homeland Security exercise. It was also among the first in the nation to have an audit of its Bioterrorism Preparedness Program successfully completed by the Center for Disease Control. The department has entered public health mutual aid agreements with five independent municipal health departments to ensure coordination of resources in the event of an emergency. A new Tuberculosis Outpatient Clinic and Rape Crisis Intervention Center have been completed.

Programs offered by the Public Health department during 2005 included Women’s Cancer Screening, influenza and pneumonia immunizations, under-insured well-child examinations and pre-school immunizations, early intervention and case management for developmentally disabled children and their families, and an award-winning Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. The Public Health Department has formed emergency teams to respond to any widespread outbreak of communicable diseases and for large-scale food borne disease outbreaks.

Day-to-day communications have been enhanced to provide a fully inter-operable communications capability between the Public Health Department and other county departments and with the five independent local health officials. State-of-the-art detection and surveillance equipment has been purchased for the Hazardous Materials Unit to ensure rapid and accurate identification of biological, radiological, and chemical agents.

The Rutgers Cooperative Research & Extension Services opened its new facility at Davidson’s Mill Pond Park in South Brunswick. A training session was held for School Integrated Pest Management Coordinators, attended by 40 participants. Hundreds of area young people participated in 4-H Programs, including Project Gift, leadership projects, the Middlesex County Fair, and the 4-H Explorations Week Program. A series of workshops were held for 180 limited-resource participants offering skills training in stretching food dollars and obtaining a healthier diets.

The Raritan Bay Mental Health Center provided services to 2,729 adults and 702 children. Plans to renovate the South Wing of the center are being developed. The County Superintendent of Schools office developed a county program on Bullying and Violence Prevention for middle school students and a “Don’t Drink and Drive” public service announcement video contest and campaign.

The Mosquito Control Commission improved its West Nile Virus surveillance program to ensure a timely response to virus activity, and has expanded helicopter larval control efforts, and has cooperated with the County Parks Department on several significant water management projects to eliminate possible mosquito breeding areas.

The Vocational & Technical High School System has opened a new school in Perth Amboy. Last year’s graduating class from the new Academy for Science, Mathematics & Engineering Technology, the first graduating class from the Academy, had combined S.A.T. scores, which ranked the Academy among the top ten high schools in the State of New Jersey. The Practical Nursing Program of the Vocational School earned the highest rank for school performance on the National Council Licensure Examination last year.

 

The Freeholder Committee of Public Works & Transportation responded to the many new initiatives of Freeholder Chairperson H. James Polos by achieving the following important results:

The Department of Transportation, which was created in November 2004, reports that the number of passenger trips provided by the County has grown from 317,802 to 362,033, a 14% increase, from July 2004 to July 2005. The Middlesex County Community Shuttle Program was created this year. This program provides expanded transportation services to seniors, disabled individuals and the general public, and offers scheduled public transportation service in previously under-served areas of southern Middlesex County. A safety and training program has been developed for passenger transportation service operators in the Area Wide Transportation System program.

A monthly pass donation and suggested fare program have expanded the annual revenue produced by the department to help offset increased costs of passenger service without placing an undue financial burden on residents least able to pay or on the county property taxpayer.

The Division of Public Property was instrumental in moving the Medical Examiner’s Office from Perth Amboy to North Brunswick; the Sheriff’s Department from George Street to Livingston Avenue; the Extension Services office from New Brunswick to Davidson’s Mill Pond Park; and the Rape Crisis Center and TB Clinic from Roosevelt Care Center to the new facility.

The Department of Highways has resurfaced 36 roads and three parking lots in seven municipalities (Metuchen, Milltown, New Brunswick, Sayreville, South Amboy, South Plainfield and Woodbridge). The department has also expanded the “Fatal Vision” program into the “N.J. D.R.I.V.E” (Driver Response Impaired Vision Exercise), which is co-sponsored by the New Jersey State Police. The department has held six mini-drunk driving courses utilizing “fatal vision goggles”.

From January 1 through June 30, 2005, a total of 58 MCOP (Middlesex County on Patrol) calls were relayed from employees to the local police. The MCOP Program has been endorsed by the New Jersey Domestic Security Preparedness Task Force and is in the process of becoming a statewide program. The MAP (Middlesex County Alert Program, in cooperation with the County Prosecutor’s Office, now utilizes variable county message signs to alert the public about missing children.

Finally, the Department of Highways has identified all storm water inlets to comply with New Jersey State D.E.P. storm water management regulations. A mapping program is being developed so that the county will be able to identify inlets and outfalls using “global positioning system” (G.P.S.).

 

Finally, I would like to mention a few important accomplishments of my own Freeholder Committee of Administration & Finance:

As a result of reviews done by the Purchasing Department, the county will be saving approximately $86,000 annually on telecommunication services and saving approximately $150,000 annually by purchasing equipment maintenance insurance rather than maintenance contracts. The Clerk to the Board’s office now provides computer access to all Freeholder Resolutions and agendas. This advance makes information more readily available to the staff and the public. Middlesex County received a $940,000 Public Archives & Records Infrastructure Support Grant from the State of New Jersey to upgrade and strengthen the county’s document management capabilities and its electronic sharing of information.

The county employee food drive coordinated by the Personnel Department produced 3,650 pounds of food for the McFoods food bank, and this year’s Employee Charitable Campaign program raised approximately $89,000.

The County Information Technology (I.T.) Department participated in the Paris Grant application procedure and is supporting the implementation of Project Lifesaver and the Heart-to-Heart Automated External Defibrillator program, which were mentioned earlier under Freeholders Rafano and Pulomena. The I.T. Department is also implementing the Regional Police Data Exchange program, a video surveillance and security system at the Youth Detention Facility; enhanced Callmaster services for the Department of Public Health; a Jail Management System for the Adult Correction Center; E-team -- an incident management program for the Office of Emergency Management; a web-based system to make thirty-five million pages of land records, back to 1950, available on line; an E-filing system for new land records, and a system for sharing deed filing information between the County Clerk’s office and the County Tax Board.

During the last 12 months, the county’s Emergency Notification System has been used twice. Both times to notify residents of major water main breaks. In the first event, 6,000 residents in Sayreville were notified and, in the second event, 25,000 residents in South Plainfield and surrounding areas were notified.

The Department of Work Force Development has moved its Perth Amboy office to a better location; served 100 participants at the Community Learning Center at Roosevelt Hospital with classes in basic skills in literacy and English as a Second Language; provided a G.E.D. satellite testing site; trained 743 individuals to improve employment skills; provided career support services to 150 at-risk young people; and developed an incentive program to encourage public assistance clients to attend life skills and work- readiness classes.The Department of Work Force Development has met, or exceeded, all W.I.A. performance standards for 2004 – 2005.

Finally, the Middlesex County Improvement Authority, to which I serve as liaison, reports the following accomplishments: Requests for proposals (RFP’s) from developers for the National Lead site have been issued and responses are due in November. Initial site testing for the Milltown Ford Avenue project is complete. A third U.S.E.P.A. grant for $200,000 has been received to fund environmental assessments at abandoned sites where petroleum products may be found. The Energy Aggregation and Common Cents Program has resulted in projected savings of $454,000 for participating municipalities and local authorities. $16.3 million in municipal Open Space grants for improvement of recreation areas has been processed. Environmental and legal evaluations of several new potential Open Space sites throughout the county are underway.

Roosevelt Care Center received excellent state inspection ratings for 2005, indicating that the facility goes above and beyond minimum requirements to provide excellent care. By the end of 2005, all 180 beds in the new extended-care facility will be fully occupied and, finally, the Barbara E. Cheung Memorial Hospice is now operational on its new site.

Taken as a whole, this is an impressive list of milestones and accomplishments, and I believe that my Freeholder colleagues and their supporting staff should be commended on an extremely productive year. I am sure we would all agree that the accomplishments of the County Administration is a clear reflection of the high priority placed by the members of this Board on the twin goals of 1) providing the highest level of county services to our residents, and 2) keeping the cost of County Government as low as possible by taking advantage of every available efficiency to reduce the burden on our county property taxpayers. It is by constantly striving to achieve these goals that we keep Middlesex County “THE GREATEST COUNTY IN THE LAND.”