PATERSON, NJ- While “Blizzard 2018” may have prevented the pomp and circumstance of a public swearing in for recently re-elected Passaic County Freeholders Assad Akhter and T.J. Best, their work hasn’t slowed. The two, along with running mate Bruce James, were overwhelming victors in November’s election to serve on the seven member board.
Acknowledging that they serve to represent the entire County of Passaic, both are unapologetic about their efforts to help lift Paterson, the city they call home, and based on conversations TAPinto Paterson had with both on Friday, both believe that there are additional ways the county government and local government can work together to bring improvements to the Silk City.
Best, now serving in his third term, was highly visible with the arrival of last week’s winter storm broadcasting live updates of county snow removal efforts, and said that this is just one of the areas where Passaic County and all of the county’s municipalities can work together to better serve residents.
Giving credit to Passaic County’s Supervisor for Roads and Bridges, Kenny Simmons, Best said that “we have added technology, accountability, and communications, to our snow removal efforts,” in total leading to “improved response, and cleaner and safer roads.”
Coordinating with local government, Best would say later, also makes sense when it comes to economic development, especially in Paterson. While Paterson has its own Department of Economic Development, the County can, Best said “support the City’s efforts by undertaking studies and offering market analysis” to companies that may seek to relocate within its borders.
The County’s bond rating, rated at AA+, both Best and Ahkter commented, is another benefit to the City of Paterson when it comes to future development. The rating, delivered by Moody’s Investor Services in November, the Freeholder Board said in a release announcing it, “shows that an independent third party and subject matter expert agrees that county lawmakers are managing the budget in a responsible way.”
For practical purposes the improved bond rating means that the Passaic County government can borrow money at better rates than the City of Paterson can, which is a “better deal” for local taxpayers. Examples of this, Best said, include the financing of the recently constructed parking garage at St. Joseph’s Health and local road resurfacing efforts.
Citing statistics such as growing job numbers, increasing tourism, and a rising median income countywide, Ahkter, who was elected to serve the unexpired term of former Freeholder, and current City of Passaic Mayor, Hector Lora, and is due to appear on the ballot again this November, suggested that Passaic County is “experiencing great growth,” something he hopes can be “better leveraged” to bring increased benefit to Paterson in the coming years.
Moving away from economic development, both Best and Ahkter offered that the opioid crisis is one that the Freeholder Board will continue to work to tackle through increased coordination with local governments, law enforcement and community groups in the coming months.
Suggesting that the scourge of drug use has been mischaracterized as a “Paterson problem” for too long, Ahkter said that it is time for a regional approach to solving it, and that the County, as evidenced by a recent meeting of the County Drug Policy Advisory Committee with more than 60 individuals that included elected officials, law enforcement, and community activists, is ready to take a more leading role.
With too heavy a reliance on incarceration, Ahkter said, “the War on Drugs has failed.” Continuing that while drug use was too often seen as an “urban issue” it has now come into the collective community’s focus because “now white kids are dying too.”
Best echoed this sentiment saying that “the face of the problem has changed,” becoming a problem that “effects everyone.” As part of their efforts, Best said, Passaic County has recently undertaken a study to determine whether the more than $2 million they dole out for addiction services can be better spent, and will use that to determine how best to re-appropriate funds to better meet needs.
Potential obstacles to future success seem to be of no bother to either Freeholder who each concluded by striking optimistic tones about the coming year for Passaic County and the City of Paterson including Ahkter’s leadership on efforts to improve Lakeview Avenue and Best’s hope to get the County to play a more active role in the refurbishment of the Westside Park.