MIDDLESEX COUNTY – Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios said County Government in 2013 reached its goal of raising the already high quality of life in the County by enhancing programs, expanding services, maintaining its strong financial footing and building the tools that will attract jobs and industry to the county.
Rios summarized the county’s accomplishments and initiatives during the 2013 State of the County Address delivered at the Board of Chosen Freeholders’ regular meeting on Oct. 3.
“This year has been marked by our determination to build on our strong programs and services and to create an environment that embraces change, growth and opportunity,” he said. “In 2013, under my direction, this Freeholder Board has been able to achieve much as a team with our administration and staff.”
Rios said the county has made jobs a priority, offering employment training and job fairs, and by aligning the curriculum at the county vocational-technical schools and Middlesex County College with the needs of today’s employers.
Rios recognized the Vocational-Technical School system, which now includes two schools designated as Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Department of Education. The Perth Amboy Campus was recognized in 2012. The Academy for Science, Mathematics and Engineering Technologies in Edison was notified just last week of its recognition as one of the highest performing high schools in the nation.
The centerpiece of the county’s business attraction and job creation efforts is a GIS-based Business Portal, he said. Using maps and real-time demographic and market information, the County created a web-based platform to promote private sector investment in the County.
The portal will showcase, at the click of a mouse, those assets unique to Middlesex County that make it the best place to grow or start a business.
Rios said: “In attracting new industry and helping our existing businesses grow, we anticipate bringing new jobs to Middlesex County, which already boasts a lower unemployment rate than the State of New Jersey and the nation. Top-notch education, quality jobs and thriving industry are keys to boosting the economy here in Middlesex County.”
Rios also reported that the county has maintained its “outstanding financial practices so that we can offer the highest quality services at the lowest possible costs.”
He said Standard and Poor’s, one of the top ratings firms in the nation, once again assigned the county a AAA bond rating.
“We have a better bond rating than the United States of America and the State of New Jersey. We’ve maintained our excellent bond rating because of the strong financial footings we have secured over the last six years.”
“We have taken advantage of historically low interest rates – and our Triple A rating – to refinance our debt, lowering our costs to maintain and improve our roads, bridges and educational and recreational facilities.”
Major projects completed this year are the complete reconstruction of the Ernston Road-Bordentown Avenue intersection in Sayreville and Old Bridge, through which more than 10,000 commuters travel each day.
The county also modernized Merrill Park in Woodbridge, one of the county’s oldest and most used parks. It redesigned the layout, separated pedestrian and vehicular traffic, planted trees and completed other work to improve the safety and overall experience of park-goers.
Rios said the Triple A rating also speaks to the “austere financial practices we have instituted.” He said the county has saved more than $30 million in overall labor costs over the past three years without a single layoff.
Other key accomplishments from 2013 include:
- The introduction of an electronic health records system at the newly named George J. Otlowski Sr. Center for Mental Health care. The system has expedited billing and accounts payable, and eases information updates and access to medical histories.
- The county will unveil in 2014 a completely redesigned web site, enabling the public to interact more easily with County Government and perform many tasks online, such as registering for programs and clinics, reserving picnic groves, making online payments and even participate in Live Chat with a County employee, who will help residents finds the services or office they need.
- A Veterans Services initiative connects veterans with employment opportunities, training, education, transportation and housing.
- The Office of Human Services is working with the County Prosecutor’s Office and other groups to promote the national hotline 1-866-SPEAKUP. The purpose is to empower young people to use their voices to prevent violence by encouraging them to call an anonymous national hotline to report weapons and violence threats.
- The county has undertaken and continued a number of public safety programs, including a gun buy-back program, offering rewards for anonymous tips, education programs on gang violence, cyber-bullying, identity theft and scams aimed at senior citizens.
- Entered into an agreement to purchase land to extend the popular Middlesex County Greenway farther into Woodbridge Township.
Rios ended: “Middlesex County will continue to take an aggressive approach to help boost economic development, create jobs, offer quality education, enhance services and protect residents from harm. This (Freeholder) Board and our workforce get things done. This is a safe county, a county that is technologically advanced, this is a county with outstanding educational opportunities and county that is on sound financial footing.”
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