EDISON, NJ - “2018 is going to be an amazing year here in Middlesex County,” said Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios in his Director’s Message during the 2018 Reorganization meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders.
“We have much to look forward to and we have much to build on. And we have an amazing story to tell and show about the richness, depth and opportunities of this place that most of us here in this room call home,” he told the hundreds of people, including Governor-Elect Phil Murphy and Assembly Speaker-Designate Craig Coughlin, who attended the annual meeting held Jan. 3 at Middlesex County College in Edison.
As part of the ceremony, Freeholders Leslie Koppel, Shanti Narra and Charles E. Tomaro were sworn in to their seats. Surrogate Kevin J. Hoagland was sworn in for his sixth term. Rios was once again sworn in as Director of the Board, and Tomaro was sworn in as Deputy Director.
U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone and Bonnie Watson Coleman were among the other dignitaries present at the meeting.
Freeholder Director Rios discussed the Board’s vision and goals for 2018 in his speech. What follows are excerpts from his address.
Innovation. Culture. Collaboration. And Opportunity. These words define us as a County. They guide our choices. They represent who and what we are, and what we offer to our residents, businesses and visitors. And it is up to us to bring this to life every day in the lives of everyone in our County.
As many of you know, in 2017 we began something very different for the County. While we all know that Middlesex County is a special place, we also know that sometimes, with our busy personal and professional lives, we forget to take the time to realize and appreciate the uniqueness of our County, of our story, of what it means to be able to live and work here.
So, in 2017 we began telling the Middlesex County story in new ways. As we developed the elements of how we are telling the story, showing who and what we are as Middlesex County, and what we have to offer, what became so clear is the dedication and pride that all of us - all of you - have in Middlesex County. Pride not only in the County, but also in making sure that every aspect of life here is supported by our best-in-class county services and programs.
In 2018, as we continue to tell our story, we will showcase and highlight these core themes – Innovation, Culture, Collaboration and Opportunity -- that run through everything we do in Middlesex County. We will go even wider and deeper with the ways we share it. And, we will focus on the many ways we are actually delivering and supporting these themes through our services, programs, initiatives as a County, and the impact they have on our residents and businesses.
Let me touch on what these themes represent, and what you will see and experience in Middlesex County in 2018.
Innovation. Innovation drives us to ask, “How can we work smarter and creatively to better serve our residents, our businesses, in everything we do?” How do we bring innovation into all our services? Let me give you some examples that we are all very excited about.
In the first quarter of this year we will welcome the first tenants of the Residence at Roosevelt Park in Edison, ushering in a new chapter for this grand building that has been caring for our residents since 1937. Middlesex County created an innovative public-private partnership to build and manage this restored facility. From a Tuberculosis hospital to a long-term care center, the Residence at Roosevelt Park now offers affordable, independent living for seniors.
This innovative, restored facility is part of our continuing commitment to responding to the changing needs of our population by meeting their continuum of care needs, as well as ending homelessness, and helping our veterans. In fact, five units are set aside for homeless individuals, and veterans will have preference for up to 25 percent of the units. The Residence at Roosevelt Park is an example of how we are thinking and providing services in new ways…an example of bringing innovation to a key service we can now provide.
Most of you know that this Board, and myself, have a special place in our hearts for our veterans. By helping them find homes and other needed services, we are showing how thankful we are for their sacrifices for our freedoms.
Another example of innovation is how we are applying technology throughout the County - an important focus area in 2018.
Last year we worked diligently on our Open Data Portal. The Portal allows residents, businesses and visitors access to a wide variety of key information about the County. If you are interested in learning where the county walking paths or the transit routes and stations in the County are… If you want to know where the Urban Enterprise Zones or the Industrial Parks are … The Middlesex County Open Data Portal has all this information and more. The Open Data Portal is now accessible on the County website and will become even more robust in 2018 as additional information to help residents and businesses is added.
In another exciting offering, the Middlesex County Services Locator will be available the first quarter of 2018. Providing a great, easy-to-use experience to our residents and businesses, this will allow anyone to search for information about job training, health services, counseling, childcare, adult care or housing online from wherever you are. More residents and businesses will now have access to the information they require to locate the services they need, when and where they need it.
Culture. Culture is a very important part of who we are, adding tremendous value to our quality of life in Middlesex County. It is something about which we are passionate and proud.
We have more initiatives and programs than I can possibly mention here, but… to name a few… It means remaining committed to our history and the arts by continuing cultural and arts funding. It means starting to plan for the complete renovation of our Plays-In-The-Park facility and surrounding grounds. It means investing in the Performing Arts Center in New Brunswick which will be the home of the new Middlesex County Institute of the Arts. It means remaining committed to preserving precious acres through the Open Space program, which has already grown to over 8,000 acres.
Collaboration. Collaboration is at the heart of how we do business as a County. We collaborate in supporting our municipalities, government agencies, businesses and community organizations. We collaborate in working with our business and chamber of commerce partners as we continue to educate the community on the sophisticated research tools available to them.
We are collaborating to develop the Centralized Property Tax Map Administration Program, providing updated, digital tax maps for each municipality – at no cost to them. These modernized maps will reduce municipal costs and facilitate fair and equitable property tax assessments. This program will alleviate the expense and time-consuming effort of going through the revaluation process.
And I’m very excited about the launch of a new, comprehensive countywide master planning process that will define where the County wants to be over the next 20 years. We will be using a strategic planning approach that will define our goals for every aspect of Middlesex County including housing, economic development, jobs, transportation, energy, technology, arts and history, community health, public safety and recreation. To build this plan, we will be working with… collaborating with and across… every county department, municipality and all of our partners.
There is no comprehensive master plan like this in New Jersey. Middlesex County will be the first. This comprehensive plan will be at the leading edge of taking Middlesex County into the future, and will place Middlesex County in a leading role moving the State of New Jersey forward.
Opportunity. Opportunity is something we are always seeking for every Middlesex County resident and business, and is a characteristic that has always defined Middlesex County throughout our very long and rich history.
For example, last fall we introduced our municipalities to FEMA’s Community Rating System Program that helps them develop floodplain plans that will allow residents and businesses who participate to have an opportunity to see up to a 15 percent reduction in their flood insurance premiums. For those in public safety, it means we can help keep people and their property safer.
We will also be participating in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Local Update of Census Addresses, known as the LUCA program. Participating in this program helps the Census Bureau conduct an accurate population survey across the County. This is critically important as an accurate population survey determines how billions of grant dollars are allocated, how Congressional districts are drawn, and helps the County and municipalities plan better and smarter. The County will take a lead role in helping our community partners participate in this critically important initiative by using our map-based GIS technology at no cost to them.
The programs I’ve mentioned here are just a few examples in Middlesex County that show, and bring to life, how History meets Innovation, Art meets Culture, Diversity meets Collaboration, and Education meets Opportunity.
Finally, we are very proud that we get the privilege to serve the people of our County and that we have the capabilities to deliver and grow our key services. We have been able to achieve this by maintaining a Triple A bond rating for the last 16 years, which has allowed us to reduce debt, and maintain the true financial stability of a well-managed organization. This is unique. And it provides tremendous benefits and opportunities for us as a County to serve our residents and businesses in ways we simply would not otherwise have the ability to do.