ELIZABETH, NJ – The Board of Chosen Freeholders discussed several developments taking place in Union County during their regular meeting Thursday night.

NJ State Minimum Wage Increase

As previously reported, Governor Phil Murphy recently signed legislation in Elizabeth raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour.

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“This is a great thing. Many New Jersey residents struggle with the minimum wage as it currently is,” said Freeholder Christopher Hudak, who was present at the signing. “$15 is a living wage, and it is very hard to exist in this state, in this part of the country for less money.”

State Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney were also present at the signing, along with several other local elected officials, according to Hudak.

Hudak added that the wage increase will benefit more than just minimum wage workers. “It’s something that’s going to recirculate in our communities and people with jobs and businesses, and that’s a good thing,” he said.

Watch Governor Murphy sign the legislation and hear reaction from lawmakers in this video from TAPinto Roselle/Roselle Park.

Proposed NJ Transit Improvements

Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski updated residents on proposed New Jersey Transit improvements. “The freeholder board has long advocated for improvements in rail service for Union County,” Kowalski said.

Kowalski has met with NJ Transit representatives as a member of the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition (RVRC). The RVRC is a bipartisan group dedicated to restoring a one-seat ride to Manhattan for commuters on the Raritan Valley Rail Line, according to its Facebook page. The group was established in 1998 and is chaired by former Freeholder Bruce Bergen, who attended a meeting with NJ Transit officials Wednesday, Kowalski said.

One-seat service on the Raritan Valley Line was operating until September 2018, when NJ Transit announced it would be temporarily suspended, according to a county press release.

According to Kowalski, NJ Transit told the RVRC that the one-seat service will be restored, but did not offer a timetable as to when this would be. Kowalski said the board will continue advocating for the restoration.

“We also have joined our legislators on the federal and state level to push for the Gateway Tunnel, which we know is so vital for transportation throughout this region,” Kowalski added.

The Gateway Program is “a comprehensive rail investment program that would improve current services, add resiliency and create new capacity for a critical section of the Northeast Corridor (NEC),” according to the program’s official website. The program’s Hudson Tunnel Project, which would involve the construction of two new Hudson River tunnels and rehabilitation of existing tunnels, is currently undergoing an environmental review process, the website says.

New Voting Machines

Union County will be rolling out new voting machines in advance of this year’s election cycle, Freeholder Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded explained during the meeting.

According to Mouded, the machines were piloted in Westfield during the 2018 general election, and will be expanded to the following towns during the general election: Berkeley Heights, Elizabeth, Fanwood, Garwood, Kenilworth, Mountainside, Union, and Winfield.

Meanwhile, Palmieri-Mouded added that the following towns will begin using the new machines during the general election: Clark, Cranford, Hillside, Linden, New Providence, Plainfield, Rahway, Roselle, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains, Springfield, and Summit.

“They’re really great machines. They’re easy to use and efficient,” Palmieri-Mouded said. Interested voters can test out the machines at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth and at the Colleen Fraser Building in Westfield, she added.

Honoring Women of Excellence

Eleven women received the 2019 Women of Excellence Award, said Freeholder Rebecca Williams. Recipients will be honored at an awards dinner on March 29 at the Gran Centurions in Clark, Williams added.

“These awards honor women throughout Union County that lead, serve, and inspire,” Williams said. According to Williams, this year’s honorees were recognized for their contributions in fields including education, medicine, art, business, advocacy, and humanitarian activities.

Women eligible to receive the award must be at least 21 years old, reside or work in Union County, and “have made accomplishments and demonstrated outstanding achievements in one or more of the above categories,” according to the county website. Nominations were accepted from October to December of last year, according to a county press release.

Observing Anniversary of Parkland Shooting

At the start of Thursday’s meeting, the board, led by Chair Kowalski, observed a moment of silence on the anniversary of the Parkland school shooting. Seventeen people died during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018.

Freeholder Angel Estrada spoke at length about the issue of gun violence. He said there has been a lack of change throughout the country since the shooting, and that there is more work to be done.

“We still, as a country, need to come together and find some solution, to minimize the loss of individuals,” Estrada said. “We have to make sure that we keep working toward resolving some of these issues that we’ve had.”

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