Crabiel Touts County Services, Points To Fiscal Prudence In Annual Speech

David Crabiel

MIDDLESEX COUNTY—In 2008, Middlesex County enhanced its outstanding portfolio of programs and services while tightening its belt to meet the economic challenges facing the nation, said Freeholder Director David R. Crabiel in his 2008 State of the County Address on Sept. 19.

“The economic downturn has resulted in hardships that have not only been felt at the federal, state and county levels, but also at the dinner tables of our residents,” Crabiel said. “We must remain diligent in bringing financial prudence to our day-to-day operations to lessen the burden on our tax-paying citizens.”

Crabiel said the county has remained prudent, illustrated by the fact that it has cut the equalized property tax rate for 15 years straight. The county also enjoys the second lowest per-capita cost for county government in New Jersey.

Among the accomplishments:

• The county has invested over $20 million to replace bridges and culverts and an additional $30 million in county road and traffic projects.

• More than 590 acres, including 69 acres within the environmentally important Dismal Swamp, were added to the county’s Open Space Preservation inventory. The portfolio now stands close to 7,000 acres. There are another thousand acres that are being evaluated for possible acquisition in the near future.

• The freeholders authorized a $15 million capital investment for the remediation and reconstruction of the county’s Medwick Park. County officials anticipate that 80 percent of the $10.5 million in remediation costs will be reimbursed by the State Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

• The freeholders are in the process of investing $1.5 million to build a ball field for children with special needs at the Heavenly Farms field complex in East Brunswick. They also are renovating the walkway, bikeways and ponds at the county’s Johnson Park in Piscataway, completing Phase 2 of the Donaldson Park work and are enhancing Thompson Park, which lies in Jamesburg and Monroe, with bocce courts and other amenities.

• Thanks in part to the Middlesex County Improvement Authority’s curbside collection and yard waste program and the efforts of residents, Middlesex County was ranked as the No. 1 recycling county in the State for a fourth time since 1995, according to the state DEP. Middlesex became the only county in the state to meet or exceed the state’s 60 percent recycling goal 10 times. This honor could not have been achieved without the Planning Department’s Solid Waste Division and the enforcement efforts of the Public Health Department

With gas prices spiraling out of control in 2008, the Department of Consumer Affairs, Division of Weights and Measures stepped up its monitoring of fuel quality and pricing methods used by local gas stations. Its enforcement efforts brought in over $328,000 from fines.

The award-winning Vocational-Technical High Schools opened the Academy for Allied Health and Biomedical Sciences on its Woodbridge campus to address the growing need for skilled health care professionals. Its sister school, the Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies, received National recognition as one of America’s Best High Schools as reported in the “US News and World Report” magazine.

This fall, 90 full-time nursing students became the first class of a joint program operated by Middlesex County College and Raritan Bay Medical Center. The program was established to meet the increasing need for skilled nursing care in the County and will continue to grow. In addition, the overall enrollment at the college has continued to increase. Through the enhancement of our online course capabilities, we have seen enrollment of this program increase by over 35 percent.

Renovation of the college Olympic-size swimming pool has begun and will provide enhanced features including diving platforms. The county is committed to have a world-class facility to encourage students to participate in state and national events

On Sept. 17, county officials broke ground on a second state-of-the-art, 180-bed long-term care facility in Old Bridge.

The Department on Aging helped over 30,000 individuals learn about senior resources and access services. In addition, the department worked with Middlesex County College to offer the first Care Giver Certificate program for individuals who are involved in or may be considering the home care field.

The Middlesex County RX Savings program has generated for participants over $206,000 in savings, which is an average savings of more than $40 per prescription. In addition, the Public Health Department developed a new school program called “Healthy Habits.” Taught in the schools, it has been used successfully to educate ch ildren on ways to prevent the spread of the flu and other illnesses.

The Housing and Community Development Department’s “American Dream” first-time homebuyers program has helped 50 families purchase their first home. In addition, the county’s rental assistance program has helped over 600 needy families to obtain apartments at rents they can afford.

In the Department of Human Services, the Division of Addiction Services engaged in an initiative, which created a four-year plan to establish programs and activities for addiction prevention and treatment.

In 2008, the freeholders appropriated start-up funding for Laurel House, a cost-effective facility in New Jersey for mental health individuals. Laurel House offers members supported employment, education and social opportunities and complements existing mental health services with free membership and no restrictions.

The county expanded its use of hybrid vehicles to increase fuel efficiency and reduce fuel emissions. This is part of the Middlesex County Showroom of Environmental Technology program established in 2006 with the goal of reducing fuel consumption and carbon emissions.

The implementation of the BrunsQuik Shuttle (formerly known as the Hub City Trolley), which serves the New Brunswick and Jersey Avenue rail stations, as well as connecting routes with six NJ Transit bus routes, has more than doubled ridership in this area.

The county received the National Community Transit Award from the Community Transportation Association of America for outstanding service. It was selected from over 1,200 community transit services throughout the country.

Thanks to Middlesex County, shared services is now a priority for the State of New Jersey. Middlesex County now leads the State Shared Services Association, which is focused on saving taxpayers’ money.

The Office of the Surrogate has opened its seventh satellite office at the Spotswood Senior Center and is preparing to open its eighth office at the Perth Amboy Public Safety Complex. The office has assisted thousands of clients and their efforts have brought in more than $1.5 million in revenue to the County.

The county Fire Marshal has finished upgrading the 800 megahertz radio system to ensure Countywide coverage and improved voice quality. This will also ensure enhanced day-to-day and emergency communication services.

The Middlesex County Fire Academy has implemented live internet training to improve the quality of education for emergency response personnel. This new technology also enables the Fire Academy to provide necessary training to individuals throughout the state, nation and even the world

To aid the Adult Corrections Department and local municipalities, the county has enabled video psychiatric evaluations. Psychiatrists can now evaluate individuals via video conferencing equipment, often within 30 minutes of a request, cutting down on the time local and county law enforcement officers spend in transporting individuals.

The Economic Development Department published the county’s first four-color tourism and economic development guide, which features facts and figures as well as recreational and cultural opportunities throughout the county to boost tourism and the county’s corporate profile.

Finally, the Freeholder Director said he is confident that within the next two weeks, the county will have a final resolution to the National Lead matter, such that the county will receive its initial payment of $32 million.

Looking to 2009, Crabiel said financial challenges lay ahead. “I am confident we will continue to be vigilant in conducting prudent financial planning to ensure that each precious tax payer dollar will be used for die services that best serve our residents.”

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