Freeholders Carter, Kowalski and Granados Begin New Terms
UNION COUNTY COURTHOUSE, ELIZABETH—Freeholder Bruce H. Bergen has been selected as Chairman of the Board for the second year in a row and announced a series of initiatives for 2017, entitled “Connecting our Community” that includes new announcements for youth, seniors, veterans, social services, parks, the environment and the arts.
Bergen, a lifelong native of Union County who is a resident of Springfield, announced his initiatives at the 160th annual reorganization meeting held in the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth on Sunday.
Freeholders Linda Carter, Bette Jane Kowalski and Sergio Granados, were sworn in to new terms. Freeholder Granados was appointed as Freeholder Vice Chairman for the second year in a row. Freeholders also voted to fill numerous positions on County advisory boards and to adopt the Board’s 2017 schedule and procedural rules.
In announcing his “Connecting our Community” initiatives, Bergen noted that while “there has been improvement, these continue to be challenging times” for many in Union County.
Bergen added that the Board would continue to deliver “the services our residents want and deserve in a fiscally prudent manner,” despite pressure from the State to pay for mandated services without adequate funding.
Bergen also added Union County is now entering “uncharted territory” as well at the Federal level with many critical government services across the board facing an uncertain future with new national leadership.
“Here in Union County, we are prepared to stand for our core governing values and to protect the most vulnerable among us, as well as all those who could be impacted in an unfair manner,” Bergen said. “Union County’s residents—and our immigrants—have the right to be treated with the dignity and respect that all citizens of the planet deserve, regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.”
With this in mind, Bergen announced his “Connecting our Community” initiatives for 2017:
- UC LEAP: Learning, Employment and Arts Programs (for youth):
- In the centerpiece program, the County will partner with the Simon Youth Foundation, the Union County Vo-Tech, the Workforce Development Board and the State Department of Labor to create an Alternative High School for at-risk-youth that will open at the Mills at Jersey Gardens this year.
- In Summit, the County will partner with Overlook Hospital to co-sponsor the Project Search program, which provides employment and training for youth with disabilities. The hospital is one of only four employers state-wide that was selected to host this program.
- In Scotch Plains, the Union County Vocational Technical Schools will offer programs designed to train students for the arts, and high-paying legal and technology careers. This includes the new full time Academy for Law and Justice, opening in September; a Hack-A-thon event, which is a twenty-four hour computer science and engineering competition open to all students of high school age; and a student play at the Union County Performing Arts Center (UCPAC) in Rahway.
- The Freeholder Board will once again sponsor the American Theater Group’s second Annual Group Drama Festival at the Hamilton Stage in April, and the third annual Union County Advancing Community Theatre (UCACT) program at UC PAC. Through UCACT, the Freeholder Board sponsors local theatrical groups to bring their productions to the big stage at UCPAC in Rahway.
UC MEANS GREEN II:
- The Freeholders will offer increased funding for another round of grants for local governments, community organizations and non-profits serving hundreds of residents, through the UC Community Gardens grant program which was so successful last year.
- The Department of Public Works will “turn a new leaf” with its composting operations at the Houdaille Quarry, while providing a much needed service to the County’s municipalities. The leaf and grass collected countywide will be sold as high-end compost to private companies, producing as much as $500,000 a year in revenues.
- The Board will partner with local veterans groups, including Operation Rebound and the New Jersey Vets Commission in efforts to strengthen the mental and physical well-being of veterans.
- The County will establish the first Veterans Success Center, through the Department of Economic Development. Relying on existing resources, the Center will assist veterans with job placement and training, career advisement, and referrals to health resources.
- The Parks Department will work to refurbish and re-dedicate the existing veterans Memorial Grove in Rahway Park. The Parks Department will replace missing trees, create a new online map, refurbish the area around the memorial marker, and re-dedicate this historic tree grove and marker.
The “Continuum of Care”—a series of social service announcements for 2017:
- The County will fund beds for a minimum of 25 additional residents who require heroin or other opioid addiction treatment in 2017. The treatment will include up to seven days of DeTox treatment, and up to 28 days of inpatient rehabilitation, per person.
- The Human Services Department will work to create the Union County Nonprofit Consortium Leadership Development program, and fund of a series of management leadership trainings, geared toward top nonprofit management staff.
- The County will explore of the creation of an Office on Volunteer Services.
- The County will continue the “Senior Focus” and “Seniors in Motion” programs. “Senior Focus” funding is being used for equipment for or repairs and rehabilitation of senior center facilities. The vans awarded by the County to the municipalities for the transport of seniors in the “Seniors in Motion” program have begun to roll out, and will be continuing throughout the year.
- The county will be purchasing a Fire Fighting Water Tanker that will bring 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water to a scene for municipal fire fighters, providing an effective means to suppress an active fire in remote areas.
- In an effort to keep first responders in constant communication during a crisis, the County will expand upon last year’s “Mutual Aide Radio project,” and assist the 17 agencies who use the Union County Dispatch service with compatible radios to ease communication.
- The Bureau of GIS is working with the UC Prosecutor’s Office to develop an online Crisis Mitigation Plan including the introduction of a Homeland Security program to scan floor plans of key public facilities into the County GIS, to speed emergency response.
Working with local law enforcement, floor plans for the County’s 230 public and private schools have been added. The County plans on extending this program to capture as many important public facilities as possible.
Other announcements included:
- A second annual performance by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra— this time at Oak Ridge Park in Clark, with a re-enactment battle of Short Hills which occurred 240 years ago;
- The County will roll out historic signage marking the Crossroads of the Revolution National Heritage Area at revolutionary era sites to raise the public’s awareness of history;
- The County will host the first-ever Family Pride CommUNITY Picnic event at Rahway Park in the summer, celebrating marriage equality;
- Updates throughout the Parks system: developing a new spray park for Wheeler Park in Linden; a new multi-use Astroturf field for Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield; and the opening of the new skating facility at Warinanco Park. The public will also be able to access programs and online tickets to popular parks events including the Pumpkin Sail and Harvest Fest.
Bergen, in closing, thanked all for their support.
“Finally, though it sounds like a cliché, I honestly am humbled and honored by the support of my Freeholder colleagues,” Bergen said. “I look forward to continuing to work with all of them in the coming year to build on the progress this Board has made over many years, moving Union County forward for all of our residents. I also want to acknowledge and thank our County Manager, our department heads and the 2,500 or so county employees who work hard every day on behalf of our residents.”