Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios, at the county government’s reorganization meeting on January 4, outlined the county’s proactive and action-packed agenda for 2017. The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders would focus on enhancing services, forming new partnerships, increasing efficiency to better serve residents and building a stronger awareness of the county’s many services and offerings to its residents and businesses.
In addition to the director’s message, the 2017 reorganization event, held at Middlesex County College in Edison, included conducting the business of county government reorganizing:
- Director Rios once again was elected by the freeholders to serve in 2017 as director; (picture of Director Rios during swearing-in ceremony with his wife Micki and NJ State Senator Joseph Vitale)
- Freeholder Carol Bellante was chosen to serve as deputy director for the year;
- Director Rios, plus Freeholders Kenneth Armwood, Charles Kenny and Blanquita B. Valenti, all of whom were re-elected to another freeholder term in November’s election, were sworn into office;
- Sheriff Mildred S. Scott, who also won re-election in November, was sworn in.
Director Rios in his “State of the County” speech, highlighted the board’s 2016 achievements, including effectively ending veterans’ homelessness in the county; retaining the county’s Triple-A Bond rating; completing capital projects that ensure state-of-the-art educational and recreational facilities and safe roads and bridges throughout the county.
“All that we achieved in 2016 speaks to the county’s commitment to drawing from our rich history of invention and determination to set the stage for innovation,” Director Rios said. “It illustrates how our dedication to offering the best education creates better opportunities for our residents.”
He then emphasized the value of expanding the arts – a vehicle for celebrating “our culture, which in turn has strengthened our diversity and leads to successful collaboration” in education and economic development projects. “This intersection of ideas is the very foundation on which we build our agenda for 2017 and beyond.”
The initiatives include:
- Bringing the arts and history to greater audiences through the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund. Projects in New Brunswick, Woodbridge and Carteret that received trust funding have begun.
- Establishing the non-profit Middlesex County Business Partnership, a public-private partnership that will serve as a catalyst for private-sector funding, grants, advertising and promotion of business investment opportunities for the county. It will help increase tourism, jobs and attract new businesses and help existing ones grow.
- Collaborating with the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO) to boost economic development and redevelopment throughout all municipalities in Middlesex County.
- Completing an updated Countywide Comprehensive Master Plan, the key of which is a robust, all-encompassing transportation plan. This plan will rely on map-based GIS technology to improve the ways residents, commuters and businesses move in and around the county.
- Introducing an Online Resource Directory, which will enable users to search for services and programs close to home from a computer, smartphone or tablet.
With ongoing county support, Middlesex County College is developing an honors program and offering several new academic programs in homeland security, business information systems, sustainability science and continuing education for teacher certification to teach content areas in middle schools.
In addition, the Middlesex County Vocational-Technical School District is developing a career major in global logistics and supply chain management, industries that offer jobs in transportation, distribution and logistics planning and management for the movement of goods by road, rail, air and sea.
“It’s a perfect fit in a county dedicated to completing a comprehensive transportation plan and one that is blessed with a vast network of roads and rail and has close proximity to the third largest port in the world,” Director Rios said. “It will be an outstanding opportunity for our students to gain the knowledge they need to obtain in-demand, quality jobs close to home.”
Director Rios closed his remarks by revealing the county’s new marketing campaign that includes a new brand identity “which represents the richness, power and reach of the Middlesex County brand and story.”
As part of the county’s initiative to generate stronger awareness of the advantages of working and living in Middlesex County, a video was debuted that brings to life the county’s brand and story. The video can be viewed here:
2017 REORGANIZATION OF THE
MIDDLESEX COUNTY BOARD OF CHOSEN FREEHOLDERS
JANUARY 4, 2017
“MIDDLESEX COUNTY: THE INTERSECTION
OF IDEAS AND RESULTS”
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 2017 reorganization of the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
My wife, Mickie, and I and the entire Board of Freeholders offer all of you our best wishes for a peaceful and healthy New Year. At this time, I would like us all to remember our troops here and overseas and their loved ones and victims of the terrorist attacks that have happened in the United States and abroad since we last gathered here. Let us have a moment of silence and hope that these tragedies are not repeated. Thank you.
I also thank and send the best wishes of the entire Board to all our Law Enforcement, Fire and Emergency Services personnel who put themselves in harm’s way. It is our sincerest wish that they return home safely every day. Tonight, I want to acknowledge several heroes who were recognized by this Board throughout 2016 for their efforts. If the following individuals are here, I ask that you stand so that we may all applaud your courage and quick action. South Brunswick Police Officers Salvatore Fama and Brian Luck saved a warehouse worker. Edison Police Officer Brian Freund saved a 6-day-old infant. Sayreville Patrolman Brian Gay, Assistant Fire Chief George Gawron and Sayreville residents Daniel Hockenjos, Robert Kern, Tyler Wood and Kimberly Carson saved a family from a burning home. Thank you.
Middlesex County had an incredibly productive 2016.
First, we effectively ended veterans’ homelessness in the County. As you know, helping our veterans is a passion of mine. This achievement was certified by three federal agencies and earned an invitation to attend a White House ceremony by First Lady Michelle Obama.
It fills my heart with sincere gratitude for my fellow Freeholders, our County staff, our veterans’ organizations and the many community partners who helped us accomplish this goal. I thank and applaud each of you.
Building on the successes we realized and the partnerships we made to effectively end Veterans’ Homelessness, we will continue to fine tune our system to ensure it remains responsive to the needs of our Veterans and continue to work toward ending chronic, youth and family homelessness.
Some of our veterans are with us this evening. I would like to thank them for their service to our nation. Their sacrifices and the sacrifices of those still on active duty, have protected us and our freedoms. At this time, I ask all veterans and active service members to please stand and accept our deepest gratitude for what you do and have done for us.
We also broke ground on the Residence at Roosevelt Park, transforming the historic Roosevelt hospital building into a stunning 84-unit independent senior apartment complex overlooking our beautiful Roosevelt Park to meet the changing needs of our seniors.
In keeping with our commitment to end all homelessness in the County, several units will be set aside for formerly homeless individuals or couples. I’m proud to say that veterans will have preferred status for 25 percent of the apartments.
We welcomed several towns as they joined our state-of-the- art Emergency Radio network, which enables seamless communication between County and municipal agencies increasing our effectiveness.
We also welcomed the news that we attained – for a 13th year – a Triple A bond rating, which helps us complete critical infrastructure projects throughout the County and saves our towns money when they leverage our excellent rating when purchasing emergency vehicles, technology and large equipment, such as backhoes and dump trucks.
One of my first priorities as Director three years ago was to work with County Administration to adopt financial policies to lower our debt and to establish a Capital Improvement Master Plan, all with the goal of better serving our citizens. As a result, we have lowered our debt by more than $194 million dollars or 28%.
We have also completed capital projects that ensure we have state-of-the-art educational and recreational facilities and safe roads and bridges for all our residents and businesses throughout the County.
In working with our municipal partners, we have saved more than 8,000 acres of precious open lands and more than 5,000 acres of farmland through the Middlesex County Open Space and Recreation and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund.
Middlesex County’s business landscape grew, as Amazon has opened fulfillment centers in Carteret and Woodbridge, UPS is hiring for its new center in South Brunswick and online retailer Wayfair has moved into Cranbury.
Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital recently became part of the Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health system, ensuring the continued delivery of world-class healthcare in our backyards.
All that we achieved in 2016 speaks to the County’s commitment to drawing from our rich history of invention and determination to set the stage for innovation. It illustrates how our dedication to offering the best education creates better opportunities for our residents. And how our emphasis on expanding arts helps us celebrate our culture, which in turn has strengthened our diversity and leads to successful collaboration on so many levels and in so many projects.
This intersection of ideas and results is the very foundation on which we build our agenda for 2017 and beyond. It gives me great pleasure to highlight several key initiatives for you now.
In 2017 we will begin to see the results of our investment in the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund as the New Brunswick Cultural Center begins its project to expand performance, rehearsal, classroom and gallery space along Livingston Avenue. New elements, such as a black box theater, retail, office and residential space, will increase opportunities for artists, students and audience members. Work also has begun in Carteret and Woodbridge on their cultural and arts centers. All these projects will help us reach our goal of bringing the arts to greater audiences, while celebrating our cultural diversity. This is one of the places where arts meet culture in Middlesex County.
We will build on our commitment to the arts and history by implementing the findings of the Arts Initiative and Regional Plan, expected to be complete by March. This assessment is studying the way the County and towns fund and promote the arts and how, as a region, we can increase access to the arts and the tourism and economic development they can drive.
Our rich diversity means unparalleled collaboration between small towns and urban centers, family-owned businesses and large corporations, students and seniors and people of all cultures.
We have the right ingredients and the strong partnerships to establish the non-profit, “Middlesex County Business Partnership.” This public-private partnership will serve as a catalyst for private-sector funding, grants, advertising and promotion of business investment opportunities for Middlesex County. It is a natural outgrowth of our robust business portal, which gives potential investors the tools they need to make sound business decisions right on the County website. The partnership will encompass ways to increase tourism, jobs and new and expanded businesses. We will foster investment through collaboration and provide one-stop access for business investors.
We will collaborate with Christopher J. Paladino, President of the New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO), and the firm to boost economic development and redevelopment throughout all municipalities in Middlesex County. DEVCO knows how to put the right resources together and understands the nuances of financing large, complicated projects to get a quality job done.
Just look around New Brunswick and at all the work they have completed for the City, including the new Honors College on the Rutgers campus. There are areas throughout the County that may be in established redevelopment zones that would benefit greatly from this partnership. This is an opportune time to pool our collective resources to make Middlesex County’s economy even stronger.
With our tradition of using technology to serve our residents more effectively, history will meet innovation as we work to complete an updated Countywide Comprehensive Master Plan, the key of which is a robust, all-encompassing transportation plan. This plan will rely on map-based GIS technology to improve the ways our residents, commuters and businesses move in and around the County.
By the end of the first quarter of this year, we will debut an Online Resource Directory, which also will use GIS technology to enable users to search for services and programs close to home. The public also will be able to search Surrogate’s Office records dating from 1790 to present day.
Now, finding myriad programs and services or searching for wills and administrations for every estate in Middlesex County is as easy as clicking a mouse or even picking up a smart phone or tablet, as this state-of-the-art technology is completely portable.
This Freeholder Board made a commitment several years ago to infuse the latest technology into our daily operations to better serve our residents, businesses and visitors and to make County government more transparent and accessible. The projects I have just outlined for you illustrate the strength of that commitment and our ability to make it a reality.
And in the County where the incandescent lamp was invented, and solar panels have been saving tax payers more than $1 million dollars a year in energy costs since 2013, we will see expanded use of energy efficient lighting at our tennis courts in Johnson, Donaldson, Merrill and Thompson parks.
The user-activated system allows for year-round tennis play and will result in energy and cost savings for our taxpayers.
Middlesex County has an unwavering commitment to providing quality schools and relevant, challenging coursework at our County College and Vocational-Technical schools because we believe education meets opportunity when you have the right people, the latest tools and the best facilities in place.
With the help of this Freeholder Board, Middlesex County College opened two buildings in 2016 to better serve our students. This year, the County College is developing an Honors Program and offering new academic programs in Homeland Security, Business Information Systems, Sustainability Science and Continuing Education teacher Certification to teach content areas in middle schools, all with the goal of offering the education that will open doors to great opportunities.
Following suit, our Vocational-Technical Schools have introduced new programs of study to answer the needs of today’s employers. By working closely with business and industry leaders, the school district is developing a career major in global logistics and supply chain management.
The industry offers jobs in transportation, distribution and logistics planning and management for the movement of goods by road, rail, air and sea.
It’s a perfect fit in a County dedicated to completing a Comprehensive Transportation Plan and one that is blessed with a vast network of roads and rail and has close proximity to the third largest port in the world. It will be an outstanding opportunity for our students to gain the knowledge they need to obtain in-demand, quality jobs close to home.
Beginning in 2017, the Department of Public Safety & Health in conjunction with Middlesex County College, will conduct a pilot advanced education initiative for the County’s Juvenile Facility. Those who have already earned their high school diploma before being housed at the center will be provided with college-level courses. The credits received for these classes will be transferable. It is projected that upon release, many of these individuals will continue to pursue advanced degrees.
From the youngest to the most senior, and to all those in between, government, if it is doing its job right, is providing residents the opportunities and quality services our residents want and need.
It is our employees who make this happen on a daily basis. And I am proud to say that there are many who go above and beyond to serve our residents. Some of them are here tonight.
In 2016, the Freeholders and I were happy to honor MCAT employees David Brice and Greg Stout and Senior Meal Program drivers Josephine Bussiere, Debbie English, Marleny Jaskula, Lorraine McIntyre, Gary Mishoe, John Mulvey, Donna Rhodes and Tony Torres for their actions in helping residents in distress. Each of them defines what it is to be a good public servant, and we are grateful for their work. If you are here, please stand to be recognized.
In 2017 our desire to make the arts more accessible to all our residents and visitors will take shape, making Middlesex County the place where arts meet culture.
It will be the year when we bring our private and public partners together to boost economic development, increase Open Space preservation and help those most in need to ensure that Middlesex County is the place where diversity meets collaboration.
In 2017, we will build on our tradition to better serve the public through embracing the technology that puts programs, services and transportation opportunities at our citizens’ fingertips so that Middlesex County continues to be the place where history meets innovation.
And, lastly, we will continue to assess our educational offerings and facilities while working with our academic and industry partners to give our students endless possibilities so that Middlesex County remains the place where education meets opportunity. On behalf of the entire Freeholder Board, I tell you that it is our absolute pleasure to be able to serve you and collaborate with you on projects and programs.
Today, as you walked into the auditorium and as you listened to my message, you were introduced to the County’s new brand identity and marketing campaign – which represents the richness, power and reach of the Middlesex County brand and story. And later we will watch a video that brings this story to life, speaks to the heart of what the County stands for, and represents the key platforms for economic viability and quality of life.
May God bless you and may God continue to bless the United States of America.