ELIZABETH, NJ – Freeholders Bruce Bergen and Sergio Granados were re-elected to a second term as chair and vice chair respectively of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders at the 2017 re-organization meeting, Jan. 8, held in the Union County Courthouse.

Freeholder Linda Carter was voted chair pro temp. State Senator Raymond Lesniak and Former U.S. Ambassador Phil Murphy, both running for governor, also spoke to the audience that filled Judge Karen Cassidy’s courtroom.

In addition, newly re-elected Freeholders Carter, Granados, and Bette Jane Kowalski were sworn in office.

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In his Annual Address, Bergen announced a series of initiatives entitled Connecting our Community that focuses on jobs, education, and training for young people; social services; arts and history; public safety; parks and recreation; and the environment.

“Here in Union County, we are prepared to stand for our core governing values and protect the most vulnerable among us, and to continue to stand for those who could be impacted in an unfair manner,” said Bergen. “Union County’s residents, many of them immigrants, have the right to be treated with the dignity and respect that all citizens of the planet deserve, regardless of ethnicity, gender, race, or sexual orientation.”

The first initiative is UC LEAP, Learning, Employment, and Arts Programs. The county is working with the Simon Youth Foundation to establish an Alternative High School for at-risk youth that will open at The Mills at Jersey Gardens. The Simon Property Group, which owns the mall, has created 29 such schools located in their shopping malls, in 12 states. This will be their first in the tristate area.

The county is also co-sponsoring with Overlook Hospital to create Project Search that will provide employment and training for youth with disabilities. Overlook is only one of four employers chosen state-wide for this program.    

Union County Vocational Technical Schools will add the Academy for Law and Justice to its campus. Students will prepare for public service in law, government, and criminal justice.

The American Theater Group will hold their second Annual Group Drama Festival at the Hamilton Stage in April where high school students will present a scene from a play or musical. The students will receive a professional critique from theatre professionals.

The Freeholder Board will also continue to sponsor performances by local theater groups at UC PAC in Rahway as part of the Union County Advancing Community Theatre program.

The county is continuing to Go Green with increased funding for community gardens. In addition, the Department of Public Works will renew the leaf composting operations at the Houdaille Quarry. The compost collected will be sold to private companies, earning as much as $500,000 in annual revenues.

Veterans will also be remembered when the county partners with local veteran groups such as Operation Rebound and the New Jersey Vets Commission. The county will establish the Veterans Success Center to assist vets with job placement and training, career advisement, referrals to health resources.

Residents will soon see new signage celebrating the county’s designation as a National Parks Service, Crossroads of the Revolution National Heritage Area.

Popular events will be easier to assess with a new online system that will keep residents up-to-date on programs and park events.

In the area of social services, Bergen spoke of the heroin epidemic now racing through the state. “This past year, the County Police, Prosecutor’s Office, and Sheriff’s Office, all engaged in training, response, or in supplying Narcan to local police departments to combat the plague.”

The county will fund beds for a minimum of 25 additional residents who need treatment that will include up to seven days DeTox and up to 28 days if inpatient rehabilitation.

This year, the Freeholder Board will create and fund the Union County Nonprofit Consortium Leadership Development program. It will be a series of management leadership training sessions. The Board will also establish an Office on Volunteer Services.

Two programs are aimed at assisting seniors. Funding for Senior Focus will be used for equipment, repairs, or rehabilitation of senior centers. “Almost all of our municipalities applied for the $25,000 grants, and we look forward to announcing the awards early this year,” said Bergen.

As part of the public safety concerns, the county will be purchasing a Fire Fighting Water Tanker that will bring 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water to a fire scene. The Freeholder Board will expand the Mutual Aide Radio project that will assist 17 agencies who use the Union County Dispatch service with compatible radios.

The Bureau of GIS is working with the Union County Prosecutor’s Office to scan floor plans of important public facilities into the County GIS to speed emergency response. “We have already added the plans for the county’s 230 public and private schools and will continue to work to capture as many important buildings as possible,” said Bergen. “I know our municipalities are extremely excited about this service.”