MIDDLESEX COUNTY – The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders last night adopted a $410.96 million Operating Budget for that represents a less than two percent increase from the 2012 budget and remains more than $2.5 million under the state mandated cap.
The board also voted last night to name Ronald G. Rios as the new Freeholder Director and Blanquita B. Valenti as the new Freeholder Deputy Director of the Board.
The changes are the result of former Freeholder Director Christopher D. Rafano’s resignation to accept a position as a New Jersey Superior Court Judge.
“It is my distinct honor to have been given the support of my Freeholder colleagues to become Freeholder Director and to lead this esteemed Board,” said Rios in his acceptance remarks. “I firmly believe that Middlesex County government is the epitome of good government, one that listens to the needs of its constituents. We have been led by dynamic public servants, and I am humbled to be among their ranks.”
He added: “I would like to personally thank my immediate predecessor and good friend, Christopher D. Rafano, who led this Board through one of the nation’s most difficult economic periods and two hurricanes that devastated our communities. Under his leadership, Middlesex County is making a comeback on both fronts. I wish Chris well as he takes his position on the New Jersey Superior Court. He will no doubt continue his record of excellent public service as he moves to the bench.”
Valenti said: “I am elated and grateful to my Freeholder colleagues for placing their confidence and trust in me to fill the Deputy Director’s position on the Board. I pledge to work hard for the citizens of Middlesex County to the best of my ability and fulfill all the duties that go with the position. With a truly dynamic new Director in Ronald Rios, we will move forward and succeed.”
Looking forward, Rios listed a number of important initiatives that the Board will undertake this year including:
- The restoration of the historic Roosevelt Hospital in Edison to accommodate modern apartments and other medical and social services that will allow seniors to maintain their independence.
- The complete implementation of the solar panel field at the County’s Apple Orchard Lane Complex which will provide 100 percent of the complex’s power needs saving tax payers $1 million a year for the next 15 years in energy savings.
- And the continuation of County’s Veterans Housing Assistance Program, a workable, sustainable plan consistent with the 10-year plan to end homelessness in Middlesex County that will end homelessness for our military veterans.
Freeholder Carol Barrett Bellante, chair of the county’s Finance Committee, also announced that a leading bond rating firm awarded the county a Triple A bond rating, the highest rating possible.
“This was achieved by giving a complete picture of the county’s fiscal policies,” Barrett Bellante said. “We demonstrated our leadership in taking a balanced approach to planning Open Space, recreational facilities and commercial development. We explained our plans for quality service and program delivery for our residents, and we proved our ability to keep a lid on our spending, while exploring revenue growth opportunities.”
Barrett Bellante said the Freeholder Board effectively managed the downturn in the economy since 2008: “We immediately took aggressive steps to do business differently and more efficiently.”
She said the county put a freeze on hiring and non-essential purchases, established shared service opportunities with its 25 municipalities and neighboring counties, and perhaps most significantly, completely overhauled its operational structure to bring down the cost of running government.
“I am pleased to note that these austere practices have saved the county more than $20 million in operating expenses since 2008. These very same practices were a key element to our reaffirmed Triple A rating,” Barrett Bellante said.
Rios said, “Since 2008, we have made strategic, systematic changes to the way we do business, and the efforts are illustrated in the 2013 Budget. It is a budget that enables us to provide the services and programs our residents need. It will enable to maintain our parks, recreational facilities and infrastructure. It also enables us to expand our public safety, health and human services. At the same time, it puts our taxpayers first. We have cut every item we control and continue to seek out ways to generate new revenue.”