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Estrada becomes Vice Chairman; Three Freeholders Begin New Terms

Freeholder Chairwoman Bette Jane Kowalski announced a series of initiatives focusing on shared services, economic development, the arts and recreation, after being sworn in to lead the Union County governing body in 2007 at the 150th annual reorganization meeting at the Union County Courthouse.

Kowalski, of Cranford, is serving her first three-year term on the Board of Chosen Freeholders. She served as Vice Chairwoman in 2006, and was appointed in 2004 to fill an unexpired term.

Freeholder Angel G. Estrada, of Elizabeth, was chosen as vice chairman. Those sworn in were: Freeholders Deborah P. Scanlon, of Union; Alexander Mirabella, of Fanwood; and Chester Holmes, of Rahway. All were elected to fourth terms.

Members also voted to fill numerous positions on county advisory boards and to adopt the board’s 2007 schedule and procedural rules.

Chairwoman Kowalski announced five initiatives for 2007, and added sub-announcements regarding the Trailside Nature and Science Center, playgrounds, and the County’s 150th anniversary celebration.

Kowalski’s primary endeavor for the New Year focused on shared services.

“As we look ahead into this New Year, we see great changes ahead in the way our state, county, local governments and school boards do business and share services,” Kowalski said. “In fact, the discussion on property tax reform and shared services starts again this week in Trenton, and we expect to hear more from our Governor on this issue. We believe counties are the best conduits for shared services.”

Her five 2007 Freeholder initiatives are:

  1. Creating increased shared services opportunities. Kowalski announced the County was hosting a second shared services summit on January 10th with its municipal partners. The County is also pursuing a new shared services initiative with its municipalities through a PARIS grant it received, which deals with records management.
  2. The Union County Economic and Workforce Competitiveness Project. The County, in a partnership with Rutgers University, and workforce, educational and business sectors, will develop a blueprint and plan for sustained economic growth.
  3. The Union County Arts and Economic Prosperity initiative. The County recently won a $60,000 state grant, which it will use to market the County’s historic sites, recreation areas and arts centers for tourism. The County also plans to apply for a second state grant to pay for the development of a marketing plan.
  4. The creation of a peer-oriented Youth Helpline to be phased in over the year. The helpline will provide non-judgmental guidance and referrals for youth and teens through anonymity and a confidential source.
  5. The renovation of the County Dog Park at Echo Lake Park. This Dog Park will be renovated to include increased recreation space, a gazebo, benches, clean-up station, water fountains and additional parking.

In addition to her Freeholder initiatives, Chairwoman Kowalski announced the Playground initiative, a grant program funded through the Kids Recreation Trust Fund program, which would provide matching dollars to municipalities interested in creating or improving playgrounds in their town.

Kowalski also announced the creation of a pilot program eliminating fees for Union County classrooms visiting the new Trailside Nature and Science Center. Finally, Kowalski added the County would celebrate its 150th anniversary through a series of programs beginning with a special event at Union County College in Cranford on May 19th. Union County is the youngest of New Jersey’s 21 counties, created by an act of the NJ State Legislature in 1857.

“As we embark on a new beginning, I am reminded of something that  President Abraham Lincoln said, right around the time Union County was founded: ‘Leave nothing for tomorrow which can be done today.’ We have much to achieve this New Year, and it’s time once again to get back to work,” Kowalski said.