WEST ORANGE, NJ -  Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. presented the 10th annual State of the County Address on Tuesday, Feb.19 in the Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove.

Governor Chris Christie was in attendance and Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver and Newark Mayor Cory Booker also spoke at the event.

DiVincenzo outlined the achievements of the administration, including completed improvement projects in 2012 as well as services and programs offered by Essex County. 

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DiVincenzo's comments began with balancing the budget and developing revenues.

“In our efforts to continue our prudent fiscal approach and long term budgeting, we cut spending, increased revenue, held the line on taxes, found efficiencies and always remained committed to providing the best of services. “At a time when all levels of government have raided their surpluses… our fund balance has aided us in times of severe fiscal distress. At the beginning of the recession, it prevented furloughs and layoffs, keeping people employed,and all along allowed us to improve our credit and bond rating,” he said.

“Our revenue streams have remained strong. Yes, they generate critical funding for the county budget, but they also highlight the fact that when agencies and local levels of government are looking to partner in a shared service agreement or contract for service, they have selected Essex County,” he pointed out. Among those facilities involved in shared service agreements are the Correctional Facility, Juvenile Detention Facility and Hospital Center.

“It was my decision to come here tonight because this is where I grew up. Essex County was home to me and it will always be home for me,” said Governor Christie. “This is an important time in our history, and as we work county by county to get our lives back to normal after Hurricane Sandy, we need visionary leaders to put aside politics to make sure we are able to rebuild better and stronger. Tonight is a great time to celebrate smooth, efficient and effective government and affirm the bipartisan spirit.” 

“Working in government is hard when financial times are difficult, but Essex County is extremely fortunate to have Joe D as its County Executive,” Senate President Sweeney said. “I congratulate you for all of your hard work and the progress you have made.”

“I get to see Essex County operate every day, and I see first-hand what Joe DiVincenzo has been doing. There is no question that Joe is the best County Executive that Essex County has had since the office was created in 1978,” Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver noted. “Joe, you know that we are all here for you.”

“What’s happening in Newark is incredible, but so much of it is due to our partnership with Essex County. Together, we developed the first new park in a generation and helped recapture our waterfront,” Booker said, speaking of  the opening of Essex County Riverfront Park in Newark’s Ironbound area. “Joe D. is what leadership is all about.” 

“Our emphasis has been on progress and stability, and we have demonstrated what can be accomplished when the Freeholders and the County Executive work together,” said Freeholder President Blonnie Watson. “I have confidence we will continue to meet the challenges through sound government and keep Essex County as the people’s choice to do business and call home.” 

Turtle Back Zoo surpassed all expectations, setting a new annual attendance record of over 560,000 visitors and bringing in a record $4.3 million from the zoo, mini-golf, Treetop Adventure and McLoone’s lease. In addition, the South Mountain Recreation Complex saw the construction of an open-air pavilion at the miniGOLF Safari, the addition of a Komodo dragon and the complete overhaul of Rink 2 in Codey Arena. New Energy and Conservation Exhibits, a new library and multi-purpose room opened at the Environmental Center. Infrastructure projects were completed, such as the repaving of Northfield Avenue and Northfield Road, the reconstruction of the two bridges on Parsonage Hill Road, the reconstruction of the Diamond Mill Pond Dam in South Mountain Reservation and the modernization of the Belleville Avenue and JFK Drive intersection.

“Upgrading our network of roads, restoring our community backyards and implementing a comprehensive approach to improving our quality of life remain cornerstones of our government,” DiVincenzo said. “Twenty two towns, each very different and all very much the same, residents looking to fulfill the American dream, working hard for their families, and planning for their futures. However with the Nation, State, County and our towns all experiencing the impact from one of history’s greatest economic downturns, more and more families are seeking help.” 

Essex County is assisting those in need by providing food stamps, temporary rental and general assistance, and emergency utility payments to those who qualify. Other initiatives to stabilize communities are job readiness programs for dislocated workers, young adults and former detainees, and grant programs to municipalities and social service agencies to create affordable housing and enhance their infrastructure.

“The past 365 days gave us great opportunities to continue Putting Essex County First. And now in the midst of winter, my team and I are eager to usher in the seasons with new projects and a renewed commitment to quality service,” DiVincenzo said before introducing a list of projects for 2013, to include: an addition to the Newark Tech campus; an Education Center and Sea Lion Exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo (also celebrating its Fiftieth Anniversary this year)a new Public Works headquarters;  upgrades to the Clifton Avenue entrance to Branch Brook Park, including new fencing; landscaping and an open-air pavilion on Concourse Hill, as well as a two-mile rubberized track on the great lawn with five exercise stations. Other projects include plantings and a new irrigation system at Anderson Park, new lighting and entranceway enhancements at Brookdale Park, ADA accessibility upgrades to the parking lot at Grover Cleveland Park, the stabilization of the banks of the Weequahic Park Lake, a native plant revitalization project at Hilltop Reservation and repair of the  roof and windows at Kip’s Castle Park.

“While we will offer new sites and grounds to explore, our team remains committed to improving the quality of life for all of our 22 towns, maintaining our great facilities, continuing our ongoing ethics and professional training, and offering an open and responsive government that works for you – the people of Essex County. Whether we plow and salt roads in winter, or welcome you to the iris blooms in spring, ask you to rock out at a concert in summer or invite your children to trick or treat at the zoo in the fall, whatever the season, 2013 is another year we will continue Putting Essex County First,” he concluded.

For additional information, please go to: http://www.essex-countynj.org/index.php?section=pr/print/021913.