Public Info

Union County Freeholder Chair Kowalski announces “Empowering Union County” Initiatives during annual County Government Reorganization

Freeholder Vice Chairman Mirabella Begins New Term; Freeholders Staten, Palmieri-Mouded Begin First Terms; Freeholder Williams begins partial term; Five women Freeholders mark majority of Board for first time in Union County history

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.”

The following is a summary below of “Empowering Union County” 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.


  • 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.


  • Library Grant Program-–Increase the pool of money available for libraries.
  • HEART Grants—Increase the funding for this popular arts grant program.

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.”