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FREEHOLDER CHAIR
BETTE JANE KOWALSKI
bkowalski@ucnj.org
908-527-4112

Biography

Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski

Freeholder Chair Bette Jane Kowalski has launched a series of 2019 initiatives: Empowering Union County. She been a lifelong advocate for parks, education, and community service and has built on that commitment while serving on the Freeholder Board.

She was elected to her first term in 2004 and was re-elected in 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016. As Freeholder Chair in 2007, she promoted initiatives for shared county-local services to reduce costs and increase efficiency. With her Freeholder colleagues, she works to continue ensuring high-quality, cost-effective service

For 10 years, she served as the Freeholder liaison to the Human Services Advisory Council, which coordinates the services of the county and various agencies and organizations to seniors, children, and those in need. In recent years, she has been honored with awards from the United Way of Greater Union County, Community Access Unlimited, and Jewish Family Services.

As a member of the Open Space, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, Freeholder Kowalski has worked with the Board to add hundreds of acres of land to the Union County parks system, preserved for public recreation and nature conservation. She has championed initiatives to extend funding for open space and recreation, and she regularly participates in Adopt-a-Park programs. An active advocate for flood control, she is a member of the Cranford River Maintenance Committee, and she also helps at river cleanups and other projects.

A supporter of the arts, Freeholder Kowalski frequently attends events in Union County’s diverse communities. She has served on the board of the Union County Performing Arts Center and is a recipient of the Advocates for New Jersey History Government Leadership Award. She has been honored by the Union County Women’s Political Caucus as a Notable Woman in Politics.

As a result of work by Freeholder Kowalski and her colleagues on the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition, NJ Transit began direct service to New York on the Raritan Valley Railroad line for several weekday trains. She has also served on the Cultural and Heritage Programs Advisory Board, the Commission on the Status of Women, and the Committee on the Status of Libraries.

Freeholder Kowalski grew up in Cranford and graduated with honors from Cranford High School. She has a Master’s degree in Journalism from New York University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Hunter College, where she graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. She is married and lives in Cranford.

Initiatives

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.

Public Safety:

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

Parks:

  • Ponderosa, Scotch Plains: Two turf fields (multi-use) to be built over existing fields by end of 2019.
  • 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.
  • Ashbrook Golf Course, Scotch Plains—to be completed and opened by spring.
  • Trail improvements to be made in several Union County parks, safety improvements, and dedications. 

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 Pagewill 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.

Reorganization Speech Video

Speech

Honored Clergy, fellow Freeholders, elected officials, family, friends, and people of Union County:

Happy New Year!

Thank you, Judge Cassidy, for graciously lending us your courtroom for today’s ceremonies.

I would like to express my thanks to my family members and friends who always support me:

My brother John, who has attended every annual ceremony for me.

My brother-in-law Steve Lanset,

My husband, Andy Lanset.

I’d like to thank our Chairman, Senator Nick Scutari, for his leadership of our party and his guidance.

And special thanks to U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson-Coleman, the bravest woman I know! Thank you, Congresswoman, for being here and doing the honors for me.

To Freeholder Rebecca Williams of Plainfield, and our two newest Freeholders, Andrea Staten of Roselle (also known as “Sunshine”) and Kim Palmieri-Mouded, of Westfield, I say,”Welcome, my women colleagues, to the Freeholder Board!”

Together with FH Angela Garretson, we make history today as the first Union County Freeholder Board consisting of a majority of women.

I am honored that my colleagues have chosen me to chair the Board this year. Together with Vice Chairman Al Mirabella, we look forward to serving our residents.

What an exciting time this is – for all of us – as we celebrate the more than 100 women now serving in the U.S. Congress. They include Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Florida’s Donna Shalala, who nurtured a generation of women leaders as President of Hunter College while I was a student there.

Our theme for 2019 is to “empower our residents, and to empower Union County.”  Most of these initiatives will be at little or no cost, or use existing resources.

My first announcement is the Union County Mobility Initiative.     

One of the Union County’s greatest strengths is its transportation network. We are a commuter county.  But our trains and roads face an unprecedented challenge as we continue to grow and more people commute.

As the first part of this initiative, the County will launch a Ride Share Grant pilot program with one of our municipal partners.

This program will provide assistance to town residents who commute to work, and hopefully spur the creation of new ride share programs for commuters.

Ride sharing reduces traffic, frees up parking, and gets people directly to their jobs, and mass transit.

But getting to the train on time doesn’t always mean the trains are going to run on time.

This year, the State must make serious financial decisions to improve service. The stakes are high for our residents: Union County is a rail hub and train service is crucial to our  economic well-being.

As elected officials, it is urgent that we make our voices heard for both long term and short term improvements in service.

Union County currently leads the Raritan Valley Rail Coalition—a rail advocacy group that represents five counties and its municipalities. This year, we will strengthen that organization.

We also seek the restoration of the One-Seat Train Ride, during off peak hours to start, as we had previously, for County residents who live along the Raritan Valley line.

And with our state and national representatives, we will continue to push for the Gateway Tunnel between New York and New Jersey, which is imperative for our region.

Our second initiative involves business—the creation of the Office of Business Development.

In recent years, the County has taken a hands-on approach in developing private sector partnerships.

We’ve developed programs that have connected thousands of county residents to jobs in the private sector.

This year, we’re starting the Office of Business Development, which will work to attract and retain businesses throughout Union County.

As we look ahead into the New Year, we expect to deliver another fiscally responsible budget for 2019. We will continue to explore efficiencies, with emphasis on shared services. 

This year, the County will hold a Shared Services Summit, with municipal and state agencies. We hope to have as keynote speaker Summit’s former Mayor, Jordan Glatt, who is now the state’s Shared Services czar.

The County already shares dozens of services with our municipal partners, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars. We will build on this.

Speaking of shared services, my third initiative is just that—a shared service from our Department of Public Safety. We will establish a First Responder’s Training Fund.

Our Police, Firefighters, Emergency Medical Personnel and 911 Dispatchers keep our communities safe. In the past, our first responders haven’t always had the financial support for the continuing Ed and training they need. 

This fund will pay for that training. Special consideration will be given to programs that promote or enhance mutual aid systems and a coordinated response of police, fire and EMS resources.

As our fourth initiative, I am pleased to announce a new set of recycling programs entitled “Recycling for Life,” which advances the environmental legacy of this board:

  • Trailside Recycling Education — We will design a new interactive and educational recycling display at the Trailside Nature and Science Center.
  • A Recycling Initiative for Seniors –  We will work to develop a broad-based recycling program aimed at senior centers to enhance recycling education and convenience.

In our parks system, we’re unveiling several new improvements for 2019, most notably:

  • A Spray Park at Wheeler Park in Linden;
  • A new Clubhouse at the Ashbrook Golf Course in Scotch Plains;
  • Two turf fields at Ponderosa Park.

You can read about more about other new 2019 announcements for recycling and our parks system online at www.ucnj.org

Our fifth and final initiative is all about our most important resource—our people–and how we can empower them directly.

Here is a quick rundown:

*The Human Services Department will set up a new action line that the public can call for any inquiries about services available.

*The Department of Human Services will begin and complete a Union County Community Needs Assessment report in 2019. This is a survey of our residents and families on their social service needs and priorities, so we can better serve them.  

*The Office on Women will hold a series of health-fairs with local hospitals on issues such as cervical cancer, and programs focusing on the needs of women of color.

*We will host a women’s history month event – soon to be announced — and partner with the Prosecutor and Sheriff’s Office on Domestic Violence programs.

*We will partner throughout the year with the Senior Citizens Council of Union County, to share information about senior services, and sponsor events on wellness, financial planning and workforce issues.

*We will continue to serve our Veterans by add a part-time employee in the Office of Veteran Services. And we will work through the Union County Economic Development Corporation aimed at helping Veterans who want to start a business.

*We will expand funding to two of our most effective and popular grant programs—the library grant program and the HEART grants, which fund artists, historians and local non-profits.

Investing in libraries and the arts yields solid economic benefits and empowers our residents to do more.

It’s time to begin our work toward new goals and achievements.

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.

We have the example of our Congressional representatives, and of the young women of a new generation. We can look to our Pakistani sister, Malala Yousafzai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who was shot at age 15 because she spoke out for the right of all children, including girls, to an education. Malala said: “I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard.”

Each one of us, she said, can have an impact: “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.”

Here in Union County, with your help, we are taking action for a better future.

I wish you—and all the residents of Union County—a very Happy New Year and the best of health and happiness.

Press Release

Freeholder Bette Jane Kowalski has been selected as Chairman of the Board and 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, a native of Union County and a Cranford resident, announced her initiatives at the County’s annual reorganization meeting held in the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth on Sunday.   

Freeholder Alexander Mirabella of Fanwood, who was selected as Vice Chairman, was sworn in to a new term. 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.

As Freeholder Chair Kowalski announced her “Empowering Union County” initiatives for the New Year, she noted:  “What an exciting time this is – for all of us – as we celebrate the more than 100 women now serving in the U.S. Congress. They include Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Florida’s Donna Shalala, who nurtured a generation of women leaders as President of Hunter College while I was a student there.”

Freeholder Chair Kowalski closed her speech, noting:

“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.

We have the example of our Congressional representatives, and of the young women of a new generation. We can look to our Pakistani sister, Malala Yousafzai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, who was shot at age 15 because she spoke out for the right of all children, including girls, to an education. Malala said: ‘I raise up my voice – not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard.’ Each one of us, she said, can have an impact: ‘One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world.’ Here in Union County, with your help, we are taking action for a better future.

I wish you—and all the residents of Union County—a very Happy New Year and the best of health and happiness.”

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