ELIZABETH—On Sunday, Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella announced a series of “putting people first” initiatives that are intended to jumpstart economic growth, assist those with special needs, encourage green practices and recognize veterans and active military service personnel.
Mirabella, a resident of Fanwood, was selected as chairman of the Union County Freeholder Board for the fourth time in his career at the 155th annual reorganization meeting held on Jan. 8 in the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth. Mirabella was last chairman in 2009.
“For even among the shadow of a persistent economic hardship, and a decade of war that has transformed America, there is a new sun rising today, bringing rays of hope and renewal,” Mirabella proclaimed during his reorganization address. “Yet this sense of new hope is tempered by the reality that we still have a long way to go during these difficult times. We must continue to put the people of Union County first in all we do.”
Freeholder Angel Estrada, of Elizabeth, was sworn in to a fifth term; Freeholder Christopher Hudak, of Linden, was sworn in to his first full term, and Freeholder Vernell Wright, of Union, was sworn in to her first term. Freeholder Linda Carter, of Plainfield, was appointed vice chairman of the Freeholder Board.
Freeholders also voted to fill numerous positions on county advisory boards and to adopt the board’s 2012 schedule and procedural rules.
Mirabella said that his initiatives will be done at little or no added expense to taxpayers, and some are funded through existing grant money.
1) “Union County Means Business” – Host the first of a series of “Union County Means Business” networking breakfasts for the business community and government representatives on February 1st at Kean University. Also, the nationally-recognized Rutgers Heldrich Center will finish their “Union County Competitiveness Study,” an action plan for keeping Union County’s economy healthy, and competitive. The report has identified two main sectors to focus on: health care and transportation-logistics-distribution. These are two areas—known as ‘clusters’– where Union County’s location and advanced labor force gives an advantage in creating even more job opportunities for residents and more growth for businesses.
2) New programs for the disabled and those with special needs, including:
- The development of an Autism Theatre Initiative with the Union County Performing Arts Center, to make plays accessible to children and teenagers (ages 5-18) on the spectrum. The goal is to provide a series of theatrical performances, at a nominal fee.
- The re-introduction of the “Horticulture for Children with Special Needs” program. This will be done in partnership with the Rutgers Cooperative Master Gardeners program.
- Several other new offerings for the disabled including a soccer instructional program, a barn dance in the Watchung Reservation, and a springtime social.
3) The creation of Union County Tech School of Design at the Vo-Tech. This will follow the same career academy format as the other Vo-Tech magnet school programs. It will function as a “school within a school” and service approximately 80 students over a four-year period and start next September.This initiative will provide for the initial group of 20 9th grade students to study digital media and computer aided design. Through an agreement with Kean University, students will have the opportunity to earn up to 30 college credits while attending the Vo Tech.
4) Green initiatives: Through a federal grant, a total of more than 25 county facilities have already or will receive energy efficient upgrades such as: lighting improvements, the installation of programmable thermostats, and installation of high efficiency air conditioning units, chillers, and boilers.The funds have also been used to jumpstart the creation of four different solar panel projects at the following locations:Trailside in Mountainside;The Juvenile Detention Center in Linden;Runnells Specialized Hospital in Berkeley Heights;and the Ruotolo Building in Elizabeth. Green LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards will continue to be applied to the County’s construction and renovation projects.
5) For active military service men and women, the county will be offering a card for complimentary services in its parks system in 2012. This will enable active service people who are county residents—and their families—to enjoy one free usage of some of the county’s most popular services—golf, pool, skating and more throughout the year.
For all Union County veterans, the county will add a “Veterans Appreciation” concert in the parks system during the summer. Throughout the year the county will also work to enhance outreach to veterans through Union County’s Office of Veterans Affairs.
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