2014 Essex County State of the County Address

2014 Essex County State of the County Address

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2014 Essex County State of the County Address

Presented by Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Now, even the country recognizes what many of us have always known, that EssexCounty is a special place.

What we have been building in the last decade has been carried out by a committed administration and a dedicated workforce of 3,500 employees. Our mission of Putting Essex County First has spread beyond the borders of our 22 municipalities and gained us state recognition. But, more importantly, the efforts of our team have put us on the national map for quality and excellence.

Keeping our fiscal house in order continues to be our priority.Moody’s, the national financial rating agency, has throughout our tenure acknowledged our actions and raised our bond ratings. Another respected firm, Fitch, upgraded us this past year. They highlightedour conservative practices that have stabilized our economic standing and gave us a strong financial outlook. Our prudent approach to long-term budgeting made this all possible.

Cutting expenses, finding efficiencies, generating revenue and minimally raising taxes all helped to stabilize the bottom line.Our continued commitment to fiscal responsibility by our Constitutional officers and department directors has enabled us to avoid layoffs or furloughs for the fourth consecutive year.While, the economy continues to struggle, Essex County has done everything possible to keep our team working.

Each departmenthas demonstrated strengths. This year, a national spotlight was cast on Doremus Avenue when the American Correctional Association, the oldest and most prestigious membership organization in the United States,awarded a three-year accreditation to the Essex County Correctional Facility. This merit recognized the high professional standards demonstrated by our staff, the expertise and management of our leadership teamand our commitment to maintaining a safe and secure atmosphere for officers and inmates.

Becoming a model facility in the state and country has permitted us to forge collaborations with all levels of government, resulting in a positive fiscal impact.This past year, our partnerships with federal agencies, the State of New Jersey and five counties generated $45.5 million.It was only in 2007, that the jail’s 25-year Federal Consent order was lifted, ending oversight and enabling us to create an outstanding department.

While it is teamwork that fuels the engine of Putting Essex County First, we did see some competitive spirit when the Juvenile Detention Center was selected as the Facility of the Year by the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare.This distinguished award is presented annually to only one institution from the 500 prisons, juvenile facilities and jails, including ours, that are part of an international accreditation program. It is an indication of the high level of care we provide to our incarcerated youth.

While the facility has been acclaimed nationally for some of its services, we continue to focus on prevention initiatives, detention alternatives andre-entry programs.Our goal to prevent, deter and turn around our youth goes well beyond the bricks and mortar of the detention center.This past year,in partnership with community based organizations, more than 1,000 at-risk youth participated in delinquency prevention programs. To avoid detaining young offenders, which has a profoundly negative impact on young people’s mental and physical well-being, we provided a series of alternative initiatives. After completing a court-ordered mandate, a juvenile has the opportunity to participate in a work readiness program. Those who finish it successfully can earn a supported-work site internship. And for those detained, our full school day, still the only one in the state, provides them with continuing education. We have seen that with guidance and supervision, our at-risk youth can prepare for a positive future.

Our commitment to education remains a cornerstone of our mission. The success of our Vocational and Technical School District has graced the pages of US News and World Report. Newark Tech, North 13thStreet, Bloomfield and West Caldwell Tech were named bronze medal winners for being among the best high schools in the nation. The federal symbol for educational excellence, the Blue Ribbon Award, was presented to the West Caldwell campus.Our students, administrators and teachers all strive for the best and this second blue ribbon designation is proof. The teamwork of the vocational school family is also evident at the new Technology Enhanced Active Learning Center. This cutting edge classroom, designed by the staff at Newark Tech, offers students the opportunity to learn and prepare for a future career at their own pace. Modeled after similar facilities at Penn State and UC Berkley, it is the first high school learning space of its kind in New Jersey.

And while our schools were making great strides on national standards, our Division of Senior Services was gaining recognition from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Our Cafes in the Park program received the Aging Achievement Award, whichrecognizes our successful strategy to support the health and independence of older adults. Our congregate meal sites offer nutrition, exercise and the opportunity to socialize. Keeping our most experienced residents active is not limited to health-centered programs. We offer events to stimulate their creative spirit as well with an Annual Legacy Writing Contest and our Senior Art Show.Senior Wellness Day welcomed 3,000 guests to Codey Arena for entertainment, health screenings and information.As part of our wellness program, 12,000 residents received fresh produce through the summertime farmer’s marketand 3,000 seniors were given fruits and vegetables for Thanksgiving dinner.Offering programs that improve the quality of life for our residents, providing services that support seniors and taking care of the most vulnerable in ourcommunities is what Essex County does.

The Hospital Center provides the highest quality of care in a nurturing and supportive environment. While we strive to always do our best, we fell short in some areas of review. With swift and determined action, our team created a plan resulting in positive solutions.Our good work continues to be recognized by our state and county partners. The shared service agreements to treat their patients generated $13 millionin revenue.I want to thank the Division of Senior Services and the Department of Health and Rehabilitation and take a moment to recognize Clara Durr, who is celebrating her 50th anniversary as an employee.

From the moment the Olmstead brothers put pen to paper in their design of the first county park system in the Country, Essex County was destined to be on the national map. Through the years, many of our green spaces have been added to the Historic Register, and this past year there were more accolades.Branch Brook was designated as one of the 10 great public spaces in the United Statesby the American Planning Association.Hundreds of little leaguers, soccer and softball players,as well as the 10,000 guests who visited the most extensive display of cherry blossom treesknew all along that Branch Brook was a special place.

We improved the lighting and entranceway on Clifton Avenue and restored Concourse Hill.Two bluestone staircases lead from the street to the peak where a newly constructed open air pavilion offers families a new spot for picture taking. There were 150 trees planted at Weequahic Park, and lighting was installed at the newly renovated handball courts, extending the hours of play.Our commitment to improving and modernizing our recreational spaces continues. Brookdale Park received decorative lighting, synthetic soccer surfaces were replaced at Independence and Riverbank parks and a walking path in Eagle Rock Reservation was rehabilitated.A new irrigation system will help the Olmsted designed plantings at Anderson Park to flourish and visitors to Verona Park will appreciate the renovation of the restroom facilities at the boat house.

Turtle Back Zoo, which first gained national attention in 2006 with AZA accreditation,now is part of a worldwide network of special places to visit. Trip Advisor, one of the largest internet travel sites, awarded the zoo a Certificate of Excellence based on outstanding reviews from visitors.Our ninth consecutive year of record-breaking attendance was another indication that the zoo is a premier education and entertainmentdestination. 621,838 guests enjoyed this self-sustaining attraction.Many had the opportunity to visit the largest exhibit ever created in Turtle Back history.The new Sea Lion Sound opened in time to celebrate Turtle Back’s 50th anniversary.Itfeaturesan 82,000 gallon pool for the sea lions and a 1,600 gallon touch tank where stingrays and sharks swim and can be fed – by those brave enough.

Our zoo has become a center for conservation, education, animal care and recreation. The new Investors Bank Dinosaur Playground is another example of how we introduce recreational features that promote our mission of conservation and animal awareness. Children can climb over saber tooth tigers, dinosaur fossils and rock formations or pretend they are on an archeological dig.

One of our most popular features, the Treetop Adventure, which was destroyed during Hurricane Sandy was rebuilt. The new design offers adults and children two separate courses to test agility and courage. In its short season, this adventure generated $240,000 dollars.Everything at the zoo is designed to accommodate guests and stimulate interest about the animals and their natural habitats.But nothing makes that more clear than the educational programs thatstaff provides at the zoo or offsite.

The South Mountain RecreationComplex, which includes the zoo, continues to grow and evolve.It is a premiere destination where every member of a family can experience his or her own Essex County adventure.Another attraction at the complex, Codey Arena, welcomed more than 100,000 people. Skaters from the Devils Youth Hockey teams to the internationally known Russian World and Olympic Figure skating championstrained, practiced and competed on the ice.It was also the location for school graduations, the Essex County Wrestling Tournament, a charity game benefitting the Wounded Warriors and Amputees and ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, making 2013 the first year that revenue surpassed $2 million. Up the hill, a spectacular natural setting was opened to the public. The construction of a floating dock connectsvisitors to Orange Reservoir, a once dormant natural treasure.Thanks to a partnership with the City of Orange, guests can paddle boat on the water, picnic in an open air pavilion or relax on a bench and enjoy an oasis that rivals the landscapeof Vermont.

From the waterways of the Orange Reservoir to the banks of the Passaic River, we provide the opportunity to explore and learn about environmental stewardship.Whether celebrating Earth Day, meditating in a yoga class,learning the value of reducing our carbon footprint or becoming a member of the Bug Club,our Environmental Center offers programs in classrooms that extendbeyond the building’s walls.

Even on the golf greens of Weequahic Park, our children are engaged in educational activities. The construction of the Youth Learning Center allowed The First Tee to expand their program year round and increase participation. The state-of-the-art center enables the program to teach its nine core values in a safe, learning rich environment. SAT prep courses, outreach efforts for neighboring youth, after school tutoring and life skills instruction help prepare the next generation.

Our Department of Parks Recreation and Cultural Affairs offers something for everyone. Our manicured lawns set the stage for our summer concert series, our “Castle on the Hill” invites families to movie night and our zoo glitters during the Holiday Lights display.Our parks system and recreational facilities have benefited from our conservancies, corporate partners, environmental organizations and foundations that have helped fund projects through grants and donations.With the help of these organizations, we are able to modernize our facilities, offer free activities and create first class venues that generate revenue.From the admission fees at the miniGOLF Safari to the leases at McLoone’s Boathouseand Highlawn Pavilion, to the rounds of golf at our three pristine courses and revenue from all other park locations and events, a record breaking $12 million was collected.

While we generated revenue for our county budget, we have also worked to stimulate the local economy through our Office of Small Business Development and Affirmative Action. The SBDAA continues its mission to level the playing field through seminars, training programs and networking events.Our director, Deborah Collins,represented Essex on a nine-person Super Bowl Business Advisory Board. Even though the Giants and Jets didn’t get any field time after opening day kickoff, Essex County was in the game.Five business that had benefited from our development programsearned contracts with the NFL to provide a variety of services for the big game.

Although headlines may read that we are nearing the end or have reached the end of the recession, the growth on Wall Street hasn’t reached Main Street. One in five residents is still receiving some type of public assistance and our Department of Citizen Services helps to bridge the gap for people in fiscal crisis. In addition to 18 Rector and 50 South Clinton, which serve approximately 14,000 clients a month,our mobile office went into our towns and served another 1,200 residents.In an effort to provide better service, we expanded accommodations and started modernizing operations. Whether it’s temporary rental assistance, utility payments, food stamps or emergency shelter, we provide a safety net.

In addition to the immediate support provided by our team, the Division of Employment and Training prepares clients to re-enter the workforce. Our Learning Links serve as hotspots for ESL, GED and career readiness programs. The Summer Employment and Life Skill Training Program provided high school students with classroom enrichment and real life job experiences.The collaboration with Essex County College, the Youth Investment Council and our Workforce Investment Board was structured to prepare and develop youth for the job market.One more initiative to help reduce the unemployment rate was our 2013 job fair.It attracted 3,000 job seekers and matched 200 people with permanent positions.While the volume of participation would be considered a marker of success for an event, it is a stark indication of the unemployment reality still facing this county, state and country.

Another program that helps spur local economyis our Community Development Block Grant Program. Aimed at enhancing the viability of our neighborhoods, CDBG supports projects such as affordable housing, expanded economic opportunities and services to help improve the quality of life for our residents.Last year we supported 15 towns and 32 non-profit organizations with $4.4 million in grants. Projects ranged from food pantry support and mental health services to ADA enhancements and infrastructure improvements.

Just as our social service programs create a network of roads connecting our neighbors and families to resources, our Public Works Department constructs and maintains the network of roads connecting all of us to work, to school and to places of play.This is a department we all know. One we call when thereis snow and snow and more snow. One that designs the pedestrian crossing signals at our intersections, one that is busy with snow in winter and mosquito control in summer. We recognize everyday the strength of this department and, through the years, the national community has acknowledged it as well. The Victorian Society in America in 2005 gave us a preservation award for the restoration of our majestic Historic Courthouse.What they discovered then, we havealways known – we have a highly skilled team that can move a project from concept to design to completion.

Our partner agency, the ECIA, operates our parking lots and airports and offers funding to get economic development projects off the ground.One of our greatest partnerships has been with the ECUA, whichregulates recycling and waste disposal services. The annual collection days saw 5,600 residents bring in paint cans, electronic equipment and a variety of toxic material in the amount of 433,249 pounds. This amount equals 87,000 copies of “War and Peace,” which is 10 times the number of items currently in the Newark Public Library.

We have had a great year filled with national awards, state recognition and positive public reviews. Our dedicated team of 3,500 employees helps us put Essex County First.They continue to show that they care beyond 9 to 5.They raised funds for breast cancer awareness, walked to promote heart healthy lives and collected toys for sick children.