UNION COUNTY, NJ -- Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski was selected as Chair of the Board, and Al Mirabella, a Fanwood resident, was selected as the Vice Chair at the Freeholder Board's annual reorganization meeting on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2019.

Mirabella, who also serves as Scotch Plains Township Manager, has been a Freeholder for more than two decades. First elected in 1997, he is serving his eighth three-year term. He has served as Chair four times. This is his 5th time as Vice Chair.

At the meeting, Kowalski, a Cranford resident, announced a series of initiatives for 2019, entitled “Empowering Union County”  that includes new announcements for working families, women, seniors, veterans, social services, public safety, libraries, parks, the environment and the arts. Kowalski is only the second woman in recent history to have chaired the Board twice. She previously chaired the Board in 2007.

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Freeholders Andrea Staten, of Roselle, and Kimberly Palmieri-Mouded, of Westfield, were sworn into their first terms. Freeholder Rebecca Williams, of Plainfield, was sworn in to a partial term. It is the first time in Union County’s history that women have constituted a majority (a total of five) of the Freeholder Board.

The following is a summary below of “Empowering Union County” initiatives that Kowalski announced on Jan. 6:

PARKS:

  • Ponderosa Park, Scotch Plains: Two turf fields (multi-use) to be built over existing fields by end of 2019.
  • Ashbrook Golf Course, Scotch Plains: to be completed and opened by spring.
  • Madison Avenue Fields, Rahway: two turf fields with lights to be completed by end of 2019.
  • Wheeler Spray Park, Linden: replacing the pool at Wheeler Park, and to be completed and opened by the beginning of the summer.
  • Trail improvements to be made in several Union County parks, safety improvements, and dedications. 

SHARED SERVICES:

  • Shared Services Summit: Union County will host a “Shared Services” Summit with its municipal partners aimed at increasing tax savings, and promote County partnerships with municipalities throughout the year. 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT:

  • Ride Sharing Pilot Program: The County will work to develop a pilot program with a municipality to promote and subsidize a ride sharing program for its residents. 
  • Office of Business Development: Create an office which would work to attract and retain businesses in Union County. 
  • Office of Veterans Services (Continuation of UC HERO, Year 4)
  • Adding a new part-time employee from the VA, that will be funded through the VA to assist our Veterans.
  • Boots to Business: a UCEDC program that would provide training and loans for entrepreneurial veterans.

COUNTY POLICE:

  • Create a “First Responder Training Fund” so that municipal police, fire and EMS from all across the County can receive first responder training.

ENVIRONMENTAL “GREEN” INITIATIVES: 

  • Styrofoam recycling: Union County will expand recycling opportunities at municipal recycling convenience centers to include certain types of packaging Styrofoam.  The County will provide collection bins, signage and educational brochures to municipalities and all material collected will be delivered to an in-county Styrofoam recycler.
  • Trailside Recycling display: design, renovate and update a new interactive recycling educational display at Trailside Nature and Science Center using recycling and clean communities grant monies, partnering with Covanta to include waste to energy component.
  • Recycling Initiative for Seniors: develop a broad-based recycling program aimed at senior centers throughout Union County to enhance recycling education and convenience; residents will be provided with portable recycling bags that are easy to transport and unload and offer a recycling guide imprinted on the side. Additional educational programming and shredding events can be incorporated. 
  • Recycle Right: Compliance Guides for Residents and Businesses--A new public engagement initiative to provide Recycle Right! Brochures for residents as well as business owners. These guides would provide key information including “Do’s & Don’ts,” compliance recycling, and points of contact, thereby improving recycling rates while promoting county and local recycling programs.
  • Reel In and Recycle: Union County will make and install monofilament fishing line recycling receptacles at fishing locations throughout our park system.  The program is part of an anti-litter campaign, designed to protect local wildlife such as birds, turtles etc. who get harmed by the fishing line.  The collected fishing line is sent to a company that uses it to make underwater habitats that promote healthy fish populations.
  • The County’s Green Connection Page will be used as a portal for environmental action and the UC Means Green garden grants program will be updated to include a paragraph encouraging hydroponic gardens and other garden projects that can be coordinated with STEM education topics through NASA.

HUMAN SERVICES:

  • An Action Line will be launched so that the public can call for any complaints, concerns, and inquiries in the Department of Human Services.
  • To enhance the responsiveness of the Department of Human Services and its partner service systems to the needs of individuals and families in our communities, the DHS will complete a Union County Community Needs Assessment in 2019. The Needs Assessment will: Obtain resident and other stakeholder input on current needs and concerns, demographic and service data, develop a priority list of human service needs for Union County; compare needs in Union County to those in contiguous areas and identify opportunities for partnerships the updated Needs Assessment will identify priority human service needs and inform future service delivery. 

WOMEN’S ISSUES:

  • The Office on Women will work to coordinate a series of health forums for women through local hospitals, on issues such as cervical cancer, disease control, heart health, and stroke, particularly for women of color. 
  • Creation of a Women’s History Month event.
  • In October, the Office on Women will partner with social service agencies and the Prosecutor’s/Sheriff’s Office on Domestic Violence/Violence Against women initiatives. 

OPEN SPACE:

  • This year, the Office will offer Preserve Union County Grant: a total pool of $300-500K. The award program provides matching grants for restoration and other upgrades to the County’s historic sites. It is offered every other year.

OTHER:

  • Library Grant Program---Increase the pool of money available for libraries.
  • HEART Grants---Increase the funding for this popular arts grant program.

“We have much to accomplish and I look forward to working with you---my colleagues, our Union County family of employees and the public that we serve---in getting it all done," said Kowalski.