Economy, Environment Highlight Freeholders’ 2009 Agenda

ELIZABETH—Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella announced a series of initiatives entitled “Keeping Union County Strong” that are designed to: position the county for economic growth, assist homeowners facing foreclosure and make the county a leader in environmental practices at Sunday’s annual reorganization meeting held in the Union County Courthouse.

Mirabella, a resident of Fanwood, was selected as chairman for the third time his career at the 152nd annual reorganization meeting. Mirabella is in the final year of his fourth term and will be up for re-election in November. He was previously chairman in 2001 and 2006.

Chairman Mirabella’s primary initiative is “Union County Works,” a set of six programs to assist the unemployed, retain jobs, and spark job development.

“It takes a comprehensive approach in order to turn things around, and keep Union County strong,” Mirabella said. “As elected leaders, we are called upon to take swift and bold action in helping our residents set a course for positive change. Active, smart government starts to play a role now.”

The six-point program aims to:

• Provide more locations throughout the county for workers looking for information on unemployment benefits and job opportunities, including a mobile facility designed to do so.

• Expand county work in training and upgrading the skills of those who already have a job, to increase the likelihood of keeping the job. Expand use of training funds for these incumbent workers. Apply for state funds for this purpose and provide training through Union County College.

• Work with Union County College, Kean University and the vocational technical schools to expand adult education and basic skills for all residents so they are better prepared for new opportunities.

• Concentrate efforts in the strong sectors of our economy. Work to identify new opportunities in the transportation and distribution, as well as healthcare fields. This year brings an exploration of “green collar” or environmentally-friendly jobs in areas such as recycling, construction, and energy retrofits.

• Make infrastructure investments and apply for funding through President-elect Barack Obama’s transportation stimulus package. The county will re-work an existing committee (the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy committee) with all municipalities and the county as a whole to prepare applications for infrastructure stimulus monies as soon as possible.

• Create a new Workforce and Economic Leadership Team to help refine and expand the above proposals through the Workforce Investment Board and economic development. The team will include representatives from government and service organizations, Union County business leaders, and key officials from neighboring counties.

The county will also continue the “Go Green” initiative it began in 2008. In phase two, Mirabella pledged to:

• Work with educational institutions such as Kean, Union County College and Union County Vocational Technical Schools to help promote and develop “Green Collar” job training.

• Develop green components for the annual College for Teens program at Union County College. Introduce these students to conservation programs, careers in green technology, energy audits and more.

• The Vo-Tech School and county college will begin a new teacher training program to prepare children and adults for careers in the emerging green industry.

• Work on a number of measures aimed at efficiency and the development of alternative energy sources for county buildings, including direct digital control systems that provide temperature resets, and programmable thermostats. Explore solar and geothermal applications.

• Begin a pilot program to use biofuels in heavy duty county vehicles to reduce harmful emissions. Any other vehicles for consideration by the county must be hybrid, flex-fuel or biodiesel compatible, meeting all CAFE fuel mandates

• Continue to apply LEED green standards to the county’s construction and renovation projects as last year. LEED means Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.  The county is currently building the Veneri building in Westfield in order to meet the LEED standard. The county has made a commitment to build future facilities in line with these standards.

• This month will also witness the distribution of grants to schools to promote unique ways of recycling.

• Re-offer the Greening Union County grant program through the Open Space division, which has planted more than a thousand trees across the county.

Mirabella announced the formation of a Foreclosure Task Force. The task force will work to prevent foreclosures and help Union County residents achieve the best possible housing and credit outcomes. The task force is formed of community leaders, counseling organizations and municipal administrators. It already held its first meeting, and will expand to include bank representatives.  

As one of its main goals, the task force will position the county to apply for funding available through President Obama’s $10 billion “Foreclosure Prevention Fund” stimulus program.

In addition to the new initiatives, Mirabella announced improvements recently completed in the parks system, including the restoration of the lake at Cedar Brook Park in Plainfield, the restoration of Upper Echo Lake in Mountainside, and the rehabilitation of the shoreline of the pond and stream at Warinanco Park in Elizabeth. Plans for improvements at the popular Dog Park in Mountainside will be finalized this year, and Mirabella also announced the construction of a driving range at the Galloping Hill golf facility in Union by the end of fall.

“We have gotten a good jump on some projects, but we must continue to press forward as a team,” Mirabella said. “We need to move fast and we need to move quickly on creating jobs, participating in the green economy, and assisting homeowners…the mission of change cannot be undertaken alone. We are an army of many, but we are one team, striving toward a common goal to succeed.”

Freeholder Dan Sullivan, of Elizabeth, was chosen as the board’s vice-chairman. Freeholders Angel Estrada of Elizabeth (serving a fourth term), Nancy Ward of Linden (serving a second full term) and Rick Proctor of Rahway (serving a third full term) were sworn in to office again.

Members also voted to fill numerous positions on county advisory boards and to adopt the board’s 2009 schedule and procedural rules.

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