Freeholder Chair Column Archive

Union County Celebrates Black History Month
by Linda Carter
Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders
February 2013

As a lifelong Union County resident, I have always appreciated how we celebrate our unique backgrounds, cultures and neighborhoods in many different ways, but we also come together as one community, working towards a brighter future.

That’s the perspective from which I see Black History Month. Each February, America celebrates the contributions of African-Americans to our nation’s history. In doing so we uncover new truths about the journey we all share, and new promises for the next generation.

This year Union County begins a new tradition. We are celebrating Black History Month with the first annual Chester Holmes Humanitarian Award, named in honor of the late Freeholder, Rahway Councilman, police officer, community volunteer and member of the Army National Guard, for whom serving the common good was a lifelong calling.

Mr. Holmes’s military service is especially relevant to the theme of Black History Month this year, which is “The Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington.”

Military service was key part of the Emancipation Proclamation, though freeing slaves is by far its most well known provision.

When the Proclamation became effective in 1863, it declared the freedom of slaves in rebel states and urged them to join the nation’s workforce, specifically by joining the armed services.

By articulating the right of these newly liberated Americans to fight for their country, President Abraham Lincoln also recharged the legacy of African-American service in the Revolutionary War. He struck a spark that guided the way, slowly but inevitably, to the desegregation of military units in World War II.

Military desegregation soon became a powerful argument for the Civil Rights movement, which in 1963 culminated in the famous March on Washington and the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. for a shared future.

King was a man of peace, but there is no irony in recognizing that to this day, our armed services reflect and amplify his dream of progress toward equal rights for all Americans.

We can see that progress in new opportunities for women, as the recent lifting of sex-restricted combat roles will open new career paths and reinforce the rights articulated in the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009.

We can also see that progress in equal rights for all men and women, by the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, by a growing respect for marriage rights, and by the support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths embodied in the national anti-bullying movement.

This is the legacy of the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington. These twin events have proved so pivotal in African-American history, and they have rippled out to embrace all the richness of individual experience in modern society.

Our journey is far from over, but looking back on all that our nation has accomplished, Black History Month is truly a time to celebrate the freedom to strive, to achieve, and above all to contribute to a better, stronger American community.

After Sandy, Moving Forward

November 2012

This has been an extraordinary time in Union County history, and we’ve seen some extraordinary things.

We’ve seen the worst of the damage and destruction that a powerful storm can bring, first with Hurricane Sandy and then with the nor’easter Athena.

We’ve also seen the best of human nature, as Union County residents pulled together to keep each other safe at the height of the danger.

So many people have been involved in the response and recovery that it’s impossible to thank them all, so I’d just like to say that as a lifelong resident of Union County I could not be more proud to say that this place is my home.

We’re not out of the woods yet. Tragically, two deaths in Union County have been attributed to the storm, and people are still suffering.

But we’re getting there.

And now, as we put our communities back in order, it is time to take a look at how we pulled through, and how we will prepare for the next time.

From the perspective of County government, one thing that stands out is the cooperation we received from local officials, which helped us to get our resources out quickly to communities in need.

That included extra help from County first responders and tree crews as well as fuel, fuel pumps, generators and light towers, to name just a few examples.

We also worked together to assist local emergency shelters, and we opened the Union County Regional Shelter in Cranford with the Red Cross and Salvation Army. Special thanks go to the town of Cranford, its citizens and government officials, for making their community center available.

Communication was another critical endeavor. We mobilized the County website and social media, reverse 911, FirstAlert and other lines of communication to stay in constant touch with local officials and reporters as well as individual citizens.

Those efforts also assisted County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi and her staff, as they overcame unprecedented circumstances during a presidential election to keep residents informed and ensure that every Union County voter who wanted to cast a ballot, could do so.

On a nice note, right between the two storms a pair of EMTs with our new countywide ambulance service delivered a baby girl in Rahway, who was in such a big hurry to enter this world that she could not wait for mom to get to the hospital.

Clearly, one focus moving forward will be a redoubling of efforts to develop an even more vigorous county-local shared services network. We need to identify what worked and move swiftly to fill any gaps.

Just as clearly, we also need to expand our attention outward to the state and federal level.

There is no question that fuel shortages and long-running power outages added overwhelming burdens to Union County residents and first responders. While some limited solutions may be available locally, the root of the problem can only be addressed through a coordinated national energy policy.

Union County will conduct a series of “after action” planning sessions to learn what was done well and when could have be improved. We learned a lot and are better prepared as a result.

By working together and planning ahead, we can ensure that Union County will be prepared to meet the next “storm of the century,” withstand its blows, and keep moving forward.

Planning Ahead for Weather Emergencies – September 2012

We in Union County are fortunate to enjoy a relatively moderate climate. However, within the past couple of years we have experienced a series of extremes from destructive storms to heat waves, and that calls for a new level of awareness about preparing your household for weather-related emergencies.

The basics of planning ahead haven’t changed much over the years, such as keeping a supply of bottled water and nonperishable food in a handy spot along with a first aid kit.

There are also some useful new gadgets on the market, including portable radios and flashlights you can power by hand if the batteries run down.

One of the most effective things you can do is to keep informed about conditions before, during and after an extreme weather event, and this is where some significant changes have taken place.

Staying tuned in to your local television and radio broadcasts has always been important, and for many people that now means access to news on the go through laptop computers, netbooks and other portable devices.

For those of you who use a conventional telephone at home, Union County’s reverse 9-11 system automatically dials your home number to provide alerts about weather emergencies.

Mobile phone users can sign up to receive those alerts by text message from Union County’s First Alert system, by visiting There is no charge for this service if you are on your phone company’s free text plan.

You can also sign up at to receive free alerts by email to your computer, smart phone and other electronic devices.

Checking the Union County home page at is another way to stay informed about local resources. For example, during the heat wave last summer we posted alerts at to keep residents up to date about high temperatures, and to provide information on places to cool off including local community centers, County swimming pools and spray parks.

The Union County Department of Public Safety also posts guidance on preparing for emergencies at

For the many Union County residents with smart phones, the new Hurricane App from the Red Cross could prove useful for navigating a wide variety of weather events. Launched just last month, the Hurricane App provides up-to-the-minute information about local conditions and it enables users to stay in touch with family and friends through online social networks.

Among other features, the Hurricane App lets you broadcast an “I’m safe” message to your social network with the touch of a button.

The Hurricane App also provides information on Red Cross shelters along with guidance on creating a family emergency plan. More information is available at

One especially important thing to keep in mind is that by staying informed and planning ahead, you are performing a valuable community service. Your ability to help yourself can enable our first responders to focus more of their efforts on the elderly, the infirm and others who need may need an extra hand, helping us all to have a better chance of making it safely through, together.

Helping to Ease Hard Times for Food Banks

By Alexander Mirabella, Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders
August 2012 - Follow on Facebook

Food banks usually expect to see a decline in donations over the summer, when many households are on vacation. Under normal circumstances they also expect to restock their shelves when donations swing back up again in the fall. However, this year promises to be anything but normal.

Despite signs of recovery in the national economy, local food banks in Union County are continuing to feel the impact of other far-reaching trends. Now more than ever they need our help.

One new factor is the historic drought that has withered crops across the nation. It is likely to have an upward impact on food prices, as predicted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That will have the twin effect of driving more households to rely on food banks while making it harder for others to donate.

New Jersey’s unemployment rate also remains stubbornly high. Other rising costs such as health care, housing, utilities and transportation have combined with the aftereffects of the foreclosure crisis to keep up the pressure on household budgets.

Seniors, the disabled and others on a fixed income are bearing the burden of these trends. Working households that earn too much to qualify for federal SNAP assistance are also hard hit.

The end result is that more households have to make choose between buying food and buying medicine, paying for housing and utilities, or getting to and from work.

These kinds of choices are especially difficult for households with school age children, who have additional needs for appropriate clothing, school supplies, transportation and participation in enrichment activities.

Long term solutions are needed to address the growing gap between low-income households and the cost of basic necessities. But for the here and now, food banks provide some desperately needed breathing room for Union County residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

In response to this increased need, the Freeholder Board has searched for ways to help connect more donors with food banks. One recent success story has been a partnership between our Department of Human Services and local school districts, which we initiated two years ago.

We designed the school-based drives as a convenience for donors, who can drop off supplies when taking their children to school rather than making an extra trip to a collection center.

By using County vehicles and personnel to transport the donations we have also saved fuel and other transportation expenses for food banks, enabling them to focus more resources on providing for those in need.

We hope to continue with this effort in the coming year, and in the meantime I’d like to encourage all Union County residents to keep an eye out for food drives in your community, and to support them whenever you can.

A Summer Full of Fun and Learning in Union County

By Alexander Mirabella 
Follow on Facebook
Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders

June 2012

When the last school bell rings for the summer, many parents continue to look for opportunities to keep their children in engaged in learning. Fortunately, right here in Union County there are many free and affordable activities that help youngsters refresh their academic skills while savoring the enjoyment of the summer season.

Some of these activities are familiar ones, such as the summer reading programs at our local public libraries. Many of these go beyond books to include hands-on play and creative exercises that make it fun for young children to keep tuned up.

Perhaps less well known is Union County’s Trailside Nature and Science Center, at 452 New Providence Road in Mountainside. This state of the art class natural history museum is open seven days a week (except holidays) from noon to 5:00 p.m. and admission is free for all ages.

Trailside is packed with exhibits designed for busy hands and curious minds. Children can explore at their own pace, which makes it a perfect spur-of-the-moment activity to fill up a rainy afternoon.

The museum also offers a popular, modestly priced Wednesday matinee series for children ages four and up (for ticket information and a virtual tour visit call 908-789-3670).

In good weather you can combine a trip to Trailside with a family hike through the rustic trails of the Watchung Reservation, or stroll over to the newly renovated Loop Playground just a few steps away.

For youths age 11 to 17, the Union County College campus in Cranford offers popular topics as well as academic subjects. This summer the schedule includes classes on creating Web pages, comic books, video games, stop motion films and even apps (information:

A relatively new resource in Union County is the Union County Performing Arts Center, located in our beautifully restored historic theater in the heart of the downtown Rahway arts district. This summer UCPAC is offering a photography camp for children in grades 5 to 8, and a musical theater camp for grades k to 8 (information:

We have also expanded our recreation offerings for children with autism and other disabilities, in accordance with my Chairman’s Initiatives for 2012. To find out more about these programs, call 908-527-4806 or visit

Of course, our Union County parks are also full of free and modestly priced opportunities to exercise the body as well as the mind all summer long. Children ages 8 to 15 can play ball with the Union County Baseball Association (visit, and we also offer swimming, archery, golf and much more (visit for a complete list).

For informational video tours of Union County programs and facilities, You can also take advantage of social media to stay up to date on all of our summer offerings, by following us on Facebook or Twitter.

For information on all Union County programs and services visit or call the Public Info Line toll free, 877-424-1234.

Honor Memorial Day by Connecting with a Veteran

By Alexander Mirabella
Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders
May 2012

As Memorial Day approaches, our thoughts naturally turn to the sacrifices that have been made by Union County residents while serving in the U.S. military.

Each year on this day, thousands of Union County residents from all walks of life, including my colleagues on the Freeholder Board and many County employees, join in commemorative ceremonies and activities to keep the memory of the deceased alive in our hearts.

One of Union County’s long-running traditions is the distribution of tens of thousands of American flags to veterans’ groups and civic organizations like the Boy Scouts. Members of these groups fan out across the cemeteries of Union County each Memorial Day to ensure that every veteran’s grave is visited, recognized and honored.

This year, we felt that it was important to establish a new tradition of reaching out, recognizing and supporting Union County’s military personnel throughout their lives as well as in death.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are drawing to a close, but as history tells us there will always be conflict zones around the world, both small and large, that place our active duty personnel in harm’s way. Training and readiness can also involve extraordinary risks and long periods away from home.

To help raise public awareness of the many active duty military personnel and veterans who make their home in Union County, for the first time this summer we are marking one of our annual Summer Arts Festival free outdoor concerts as a special Recognition Day.

For active duty military personnel and their immediate families, we are also providing a number of complimentary passes to our recreation programs that normally require a fee, such as the County swimming pools.

Perhaps most importantly, we are hosting a Veterans’ Job Fair on Wednesday, May 23 from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at theNational Guard Armory at 500 Rahway Ave in Westfield. Active duty military personnel are also invited to attend, and admission is free of charge.

More than 50 organizations, government agencies, recruiting firms and companies in Union County have come together to make this event a success, including major employers like Wells Fargo, Prudential, Johnson & Johnson, Panasonic, Barnabas Health, NJ Transit, and PSE&G.

Knowledgeable staff will also be on hand to answer questions about veterans’ benefits and services, and a representative from Lyons VA Medical Center will be conducting health screenings.

If you own or manage a business in Union County, you can be part of this effort year-round by reaching out to you local veterans’ organization, the federal Veterans Administration, or the Union County Office of Veterans Affairs to find how you can connect with programs designed to recruit qualified veterans into your workforce.

I hope to see many of my friends and neighbors at a Memorial Day parade or remembrance ceremony this year, to join in strengthening the spirit of respect and appreciation that lasts all year long.

For more information on the Veterans’ Job Fair please contact Elizabeth L. Sebring of the Union County Department of Human Services at (908) 527-4890 To contact the Union County Office of Veterans’ Affairs call 908-659-7407.

By Alexander Mirabella
Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders
April 2012

As residents of an urban area, we in Union County are used to thinking about fire prevention in terms of our homes and other buildings. However, an extremely mild winter and dry spring have come together to underscore the importance of preventing forest fires in our public parks and nature preserves, too.

Last month a small brush fire cropped up in Cranford, an unusual occurrence for Union County. Fire risk warnings have been issued by the National Weather Service and the New Jersey Forest Service, and major blazes have broken out elsewhere in the state, as well as nearby in Staten Island.

The situation has added a new layer of complexity to the job faced by our career and volunteer fire fighters. I know they will rise to meet this new challenge with the same extraordinary bravery and dedication they display every day.

Our local fire departments can depend on each other for support when the going gets tough. Through the Fire Mutual Aid system, they can coordinate to send extra personnel and specialized equipment to the scene of a forest fire, and the Union County Office of Emergency Management also has a small utility truck for accessing remote areas.

Most of all, I want our local fire fighters to know that they can depend on all of us to be on the alert for forest fire hazards, and do our best to prevent them.

One sure way to help prevent forest fires in public parks is to use only designated areas for barbecuing. A sudden gust of wind can easily send embers shooting into nearby wooded areas.

Where grilling is permitted, douse the fire thoroughly after you are finished and stir the wet embers to ensure they are completely soaked, then discard them in a trash can. Do not place them in the woods.

Improperly discarded cigarettes are a frequent cause of forest fires. When in the parks, cigarette smokers can make a big difference by using a portable ash tray, or dousing their stubs thoroughly with water.

County residents who live next to a wooded area can help by exercising extra care with their grills, candles and outdoor fireplaces, and by keeping an eye out for sparks when using power mowers and other equipment.

Clearing debris and fire hazards from residential property also helps. To assist you, Union County offers free drop-off days to collect used motor oil, paint thinner and other flammable substances from residents. For information call our recorded recycling hotline, 908-654-9889 or visit

It’s also important to note that in New Jersey about 99 percent of all forest fires are the result of accidents or carelessness. Of these, many are caused by cigarettes or by grills or campfires in non-designated areas. Some are the result of arson. If you see risky activity, please report it by calling 911.

By working together we can all help protect our public parks during these dry conditions, so we can preserve them as cooling, peaceful places to relax all summer long.



By Alexander Mirabella
Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders
March 2012

Spring is traditionally the season when job hunting kicks into high gear, and with this in mind I’d like to alert Union County residents to resources that can help connect you with local employers and career development opportunities in our area.

One useful resource is our Job Connection newsletter in partnership with Union County College. You can find it on our website,, and at

The Job Connection includes individual job postings, information on companies and organizations that are recruiting for multiple openings in our area, and alerts on job fairs and other special events.

Two other important resources are Union County’s One-Stop Career Centers, located in Elizabeth and Plainfield. These provide a range of free job search services including resume preparation and interview coaching.

The One-Stops can also connect you with classes in adult literacy, ESOL, computer training, information about professional certification and apprenticeship programs in our area, and many other services.

For military veterans or persons with disabilities, our Office of Veterans’ Affairs and ourOffice for the Disabled can help you identify additional employment resources for which you may be eligible.

If you are considering starting a small business, I encourage you to participate in our Union County Means Business initiative. It consists of free networking workshops, a free newsletter and a website that is the clearinghouse for many resources in Union County,

Taking the long view, over the past dozen or so years the Freeholder Board has worked alongside many public and private partners to help build new career opportunities in Union County.

One early hallmark was the reclaiming of an unused industrial site to build the Jersey Gardens Mall, which since its opening in 1999 has created hundreds of new jobs.

In the years since then, Newark Liberty Airport has been expanded and Elizabeth Seaport has been dredged, enabling this major shipping hub to keep creating new jobs in Union County.

More recently, we have repositioned Union County’s renowned Galloping Hill Golf Course as a regional attraction that is creating new private sector jobs on site while bringing new visitors to our area.

Other recent projects include the new Wakefern supermarket cooperative warehouse, which will keep hundreds of jobs in Union County while adding many more new positions, and a new parking garage and other improvements to spark activity in our main economic hub, Elizabeth.

The past decade has also seen tremendous growth in Union County’s education infrastructure, as Kean University, Union County College and our Vo-Tech high schools have expanded their programs to meet high-demand fields including health care, science, and technology.

All in all, we have come a long way and the Freeholder Board will continue to aggressively pursue every opportunity to support those who seek to work or do business in Union County.



By Alexander Mirabella, Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, February, 2012

The national economy is gradually starting to improve, and now is the time for Union County to act swiftly in order to keep those gains and build a better future. The 2012 Chairman’s Initiatives, called “Putting People First,” does just that, by helping Union County residents and business owners connect with the resources they need to do their best.

One key factor is the development of a trained workforce that enables our local businesses to grow. Over the past few years we’ve made great progress in this area with the expansion of Union County College, Kean University, and the Vo-Tech high schools.

This year we will continue to expand our partnership with Kean University, which has just reached an agreement to establish a campus in Wenzhou, China. We expect this relationship to result in new business and career opportunities for Union County.

A new academy for digital media and computer aided design will be added to our Vo-Tech campus, called the Union County Tech School of Design. Vo-Tech has partnered with Kean University to help ensure that the program leads directly to college level career development.

Another area that has shown progress over the years is the work we’ve done with major employers like Wakefern, Whole Foods and Elizabethtown Gas. We’re going to build that out with the “Union County Means Business” initiative. The program is designed to connect businesses of all sizes with the resources offered by local and state agencies, such as loans, grants, and workforce training.

We are also going to keep working to make Union County a great destination for visitors and businesses. Last week I had the pleasure of announcing that in 2016 our own Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth will be the first public golf course in the 91-year history of the New Jersey State Golf Association to host the prestigious New Jersey State Open Golf Championship. We expect that the run-up to that event will generate a whole new level of interest in Union County.

In that vein, we are going to continue to ensure that Union County is in the vanguard of the global transition to clean, renewable energy and new energy-efficient technology. This is a growth sector and businesses are seeking out communities that are leading the way.

A good workforce is a healthy workforce, and Union County has a stellar tradition of promoting public health through recreation. This year in particular we are focusing on innovative new programs, sports and social activities for children and adults with disabilities.

We are also reaching out to Union County veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with a small token of appreciation consisting of a complimentary use of our fee-based recreation offerings such as golf or swimming, and we are going to use our free outdoor concert series as a platform for recognizing all Union County veterans.

The month of February began with a good jobs report from the federal government, pointing the way to an optimistic outlook. However, we will take nothing for granted and we are more determined than ever to chart a course for long term economic stability by focusing on the people who live, work and do business in Union County.

——————–From 2011——————–


By Deborah Scanlon, Chairman of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders

Trees are wonderful to look at and provide environmental benefits, but many home and property owners often take them for granted, without performing the necessary maintenance.

As we witnessed during through the recent hurricane and stormy season, trees can come down with devastating consequences. The insurance industry estimates annual tree-related losses to be between $3-$5 billion nationwide. Trees that do not receive the proper maintenance or should have been previously removed are consequently the most likely to fall during severe weather.

With the recent passage of Hurricane Irene through Union County and an aggressive hurricane season in motion through November, now is a good time to perform an assessment of trees that impact your property, and take the proper steps to protect your family and your investment.

Even if you aren’t familiar with all the species of trees or lack any knowledge of maintenance, there are some basic tips you can follow to assess them:

*Examine the bottom of the tree for any cracks or gaps in the soil at the base that could cause a break in the root system.

*Look up at the branches from different angles, and if necessary, use binoculars. Look for cracks or breaks in the branches to where it comes off the trunk.

*Call a New Jersey-certified tree expert or an International Society of Arboriculture certified arboritist to inspect your trees. You may go to for certified arboritists.

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension maintains free educational publications that can guide you through planting and some maintenance, as well as to hire a tree professional. The link is a publication from a sister organization , Alabama Cooperative Extension, entitled “ Homeowners Guide to Safer Trees “ contains 39 pages of information and photos of how to inspect the trees. This publication is available for free from the link .

While in most cases you are responsible for hiring a private contractor to either prune or remove trees on your property, the exceptions are for trees on your property that are closest to government roads/property, including roads and parks.

The County of Union’s Bureau of Shade Tree & Conservation is responsible for the maintenance of trees that line County roads and in County parks. It is their job to remove and maintain these trees, and if you live on a County road and have a tree on the front of your property that is close to the road and requires work, please feel free to contact the Bureau at 908-789-3660.

The Bureau maintains approximately 15,000 trees along county roads and thousands more in County parks. Every year the bureau has planted more than one- for- one to keep the county roads tree- lined.

Your municipality is responsible for the maintenance of trees that line municipal roads. If you have a tree that is close to a municipal road or property and requires maintenance or removal, please contact your local town or City Hall for assistance.

A little maintenance now may save you a lot of headache—and heartache—later. Why wait for another.

A More Secure Energy Future for Union County

by Deborah P. Scanlon, Chairman, Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders

When disaster strikes, Union County residents can be relied on to respond, and many are reaching out to help in the aftermath of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami. The tragedy also compels us to take stock of our emergency preparedness here at home.

The twin natural disasters in Japan have been compounded immensely by a man-made factor, the damage to a nuclear power plant. While Union County does not host nuclear energy, we are home to an infrastructure that can add significant complications to disaster response.

Union County’s coastline is packed with fuel and chemical facilities. We are an international transportation hub with a major seaport, airports, and vital interstate roadways, and we are one of the most densely populated counties in the most densely populated state in America.

For these reasons, emergency preparedness has long been a top priority for the Freeholder Board. We have diligently pursued federal and state grants to step up our efforts, including a new bomb squad vehicle, patrol boats, hazmat equipment, and advanced communications.

These are local solutions, but where nuclear accidents are concerned the potential impact ripples far beyond local borders. In the interests of long term security, our nation must transition to lower-risk sources of energy.

New Jersey has already started this transition, with the planned decommissioning of the Oyster Creek nuclear plant. This facility has been of particular concern to the many Union County residents with ties to the Barnegat Bay area. Aside from emergency response, environmental issues at the facility include harm to aquatic life in the bay, and the potential for groundwater contamination.

Another area of transition is New Jersey’s inclusion in the Atlantic Wind Consortium. This is an initiative of the Obama administration to develop offshore wind power. Two other Obama administration initiatives will provide another push in the right direction. These are the development of a national “smart grid” and advanced energy storage, which will enable New Jersey to receive and store more solar and wind energy from other states. Federal agencies, notably the Department of Defense, are also starting to tap into our nation’s vast geothermal resources.

On the local level, the Freeholder Board’s new Solar Energy Program has enabled many public entities in Union County to arrange for low cost solar installations. Utilities and businesses have also been aggressively installing solar power. Weatherization, smart meters, and new energy efficient technology will come into play, too.

Energy is vital when a natural disaster strikes, to bring in rescue teams and supplies, to power medical equipment, to evacuate survivors, and to shelter those left homeless. We must plan for a future in which energy provides us with the power to respond quickly and effectively, instead of creating the potential to make a terrible situation even worse.

Union County Moves Forward on Shared Services

By Deborah Scanlon, Chairman of the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, May 2011

The Union County Shared Services Summit was held on March 2, 2011 at the Union County Vocational-Technical School Academy for Performing Arts. The event was attended by over 100 elected and appointed officials from throughout Union County with every municipality represented.

Union County has a long history of success in helping local governments to cut costs through shared purchasing arrangements and print services. The County’s Resource Recovery Center in Rahway has also saved millions in trash disposal fees for Union County residents since the 1990’s. One recent standout example of a county-local shared service is the new shared dispatch center with Fanwood, which expects to save borough residents more than $230,000 in its first three years alone.

The Shared Services Summit began with a Meet & Greet, which enabled attendees to visit displays from each of the County’s departments and view all of the existing shared services currently offered by Union County to municipalities. Employees from each of the County’s departments were on hand to answer questions and provide additional information.

During this period, attendees were asked to vote on their priorities for short term shared services. These services were identified in advance as potential areas of review based on input from attendees, municipalities and from previous shared services summits held in the County. The goal was to have the local governments identify the areas in which they were most likely to gain significant results in a relatively short time, rather than attempting to impose a single plan from the top down.

The attendees voted on twelve items, and the top five vote-getters were chosen for further discussion during the breakout portion of the Summit. These were countywide recycling and garbage collection, merging of municipal courts, common street paving contracts, sharing and maintenance of major equipment such as specialized heavy duty trucks, and shared operating services and equipment such as telecommunications and payroll services.

During the speaking portion of the program, County Manager George W. Devanney served as the Master of Ceremonies. Vocational-Technical School Superintendent Dr. Thomas Bistocchi, Freeholder Chairman Deborah Scanlon and Senator Raymond J. Lesniak presented their views on the benefits of shared services. Senate President Stephen Sweeney served as the keynote speaker and offered insight into the success of shared services in his home county, Gloucester. He complimented Union County for its great strides in sharing services, stating that Union County had established itself as a leader in the northern part of the state. While encouraging attendees to continue moving forward, the Senator stressed the importance of sharing services wherever possible to stay within the newly imposed 2% cap.

Attendees then split into five working group sessions to discuss the five items identified as priorities during the Meet & Greet. These sessions were designed to be self-facilitated by group members in order to allow municipal representatives to tailor the session to meet their individual needs. The attendees in each session discussed the benefits, obstacles, and resources for their topic, and concluded with a set of action steps needed to move the project along further.

The Shared Services Summit was designed as a first step to taking concrete, organized action, and several additional meetings have been held to move forward. The key factor has been the commitment demonstrated by representatives from the 21 municipalities of Union County, who are working together to find more efficient ways to provide – and improve – vital public services.