HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - On May 19, Hunterdon County Director of Human Resources Grace Kelly updated the Board of Chosen Freeholders on operations during COVID-19, noting the remote working position county employee services, employee relations and communications staff continue operating from.

For HR functions, “Benefits Briefings’” are held over the telephone and onboarding of new hires was revamped to limit any in-person contact. In addition, HR moved its exit interviews of county employees who are retiring or moving on to an email and phone format.

“All county HR services continued without a single hour of interruption,” she said. “Staff is available for all hours of operation, and managed based upon the needs and operational adjustments of the customer department workforce. All benefits enrollments and reporting for county divisions are up to date, and compliance audits continue with any gaps addressed immediately.”

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The human resources department supports finance, payroll and administrative filing and record-keeping for county employees. These records are housed within the HR platform in the administrative financial system, so HR access and use for these documents are performed remotely.

“Social distancing will require human resources to continually examine all processes and practices to minimize unnecessary contact points, improve service and to remain engaged,” she said. “The county workforce has responded to the needs to continue to provide services supporting operations during this crisis, with amazing work being done from a remote position.”

All Hunterdon County Social Services cases are up to date, despite the significantly increased workload since the pandemic’s spread in March, according to the county’s Department of Human Services.

“Using remote capabilities, the Senior Activities Center continues to engage with patrons by offering (virtual sessions) for beginner guitar, Italian language classes, aerobics, Zumba and a healthy bones program,” Kelly said.

Good news came from the Hunterdon County Department of Planning and Land Use, as all preservation projects are up-to-date and proceeding as anticipated.

Kelly mentioned the continued work for virtual sessions created and led by county parks and recreation staff, including a number of YouTube videos on topics from guided nature walks to birds, snakes and amphibians. Several of the educational programs feature Chief Hunterdon County Park Naturalist Tom Sheppard.

Kelly explained the work of Hunterdon County’s technology staff, including securing remote access servers, which needed to be expanded once COVID-19 forced office closures. User-friendly software was introduced by IT staff to ensure that working from home is no different than working from the office.

IT staff are accounting for all network access for remote work purposes.

Hunterdon County moved quickly from 30 employees accessing system data off-site, with the rest in-office in Flemington and other department locations, to over 170 remote users.

“The county continues to expand that number and will soon transition to a phase of dual operations, keeping the county workforce remote-ready, always,” Kelly said. “County IT staff is examining opportunities to place critical systems and data in a remote-ready, redundant position.”

“New communications tools were introduced for our departments’ meetings, including WebEx, which is being used by parks, human services, the library system, Hunterdon County Economic Development and county administration, among others,” she added.

For similar purposes among county employees, Skype for Business was being rolled out at the end of last week. The IT division facilitated bringing SnapChat into the fold for the library’s teen resource center for communication with young app users.

“The professionalism, pride and dedication of county employees has clearly been demonstrated over the past few months,” Kelly said. "County HR department staff have responded quickly and efficiently to the rapidly changing landscape enacted by each executive order, regulation or rule, federal legislation mandate and best practice guidance. All these required staff to examine operations and to adjust as necessary. Adjustments were and are being made as efficiently as possible to support county operations and employee needs. I could not possibly thank every person and every department in Hunterdon County for picking up their pace through this crisis and adapting to ‘the new normal.’ They have done so without a single complaint received by the HR department.”

County engineer Tom Mathews provided a public works report at the Freeholder Board’s meeting, including the status of construction at bridge RT-16 on Route 523 at Halls Mill Road, on the border of Readington and Tewksbury townships. Out of the $6 million project cost, $4 million will be reimbursed by the New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) using the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.

Mathews said the multiphase approach allows the roadway to remain open during construction so traffic would not need a detour at any point.

“This is a multi-year, multi-phase project, as contractor MidAtlantic Construction Company is going to replace the bridge and widen the road to provide a proper pavement transition from the Halls Mill Road intersection,” he said. “Utility relocations and some demolition of the existing bridge are taking place now. The county engineering department is in review of shop drawings that would be for construction Phase I.”

Also, Hunterdon County Bridge L-6 on Rt. 513, by Hickory Run Road in Lebanon Township, represents a $1.7 million project, but $1.5 million will be reimbursed to the county from NJDOT using its “Local Bridges, Future Needs” funding program. The program, which is also through the Transportation Trust Fund, is a 100 percent state funding program, and, as announced in January 2019, $47.3 million per year through 2026 is allocated for this Local Bridge funding in NJDOT’s Transportation Capital Program.

“County Rt. 513 was closed on May 4 for bridge demolition, with three detours posted related to the bridge closure,” he said. “All vehicles over 15 tons must utilize a lengthy detour, which utilizes county, state and interstate routes from (CR) Rts. 512 and 517 to State Route 31 and I-78. Besides site clearing and bridge demolition, the contractor is currently installing temporary and permanent sheeting, and the project is 10 percent complete. The new bridge is expected to open by Oct. 1.”