ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO PRESENTS 10TH ANNUAL STATE OF THE COUNTY ADDRESS
Multi-Media Presentation Outlines Achievements and Improvements of 2012 and Outlook for Things to Come in 2013
Cedar Grove, NJ –Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. presented his 10thannual State of the County Address on Tuesday, February 19thin the Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove. The multi-media presentation outlined the achievements and improvement projects completed in 2012 as well as highlighting the services and programs offered by Essex County. Also speaking at the event were Governor Chris Christie, Senate President Stephen Sweeney, Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.
Prior to DiVincenzo’s remarks, a three-and-a-half minute video using the seasons of the year to show how Essex County positively influences residents’ quality of life was shown. Spring symbolized the activities that benefit young children, summer symbolized the impact on school-age children, fall symbolized the assistance to families and adults, and winter symbolized the programs and services to assist senior citizens.
The County Executive began his remarks talking about the aggressive steps that are continually being taken to balance the budget and secure new recurring revenue for the County, as well as steps being taken to develop shared service agreements with other governments and agencies. “In our efforts to continue our prudent fiscal approach and long term budgeting, we cut spending, increased revenue, held the line on taxes, found efficiencies and always remained committed to providing the best of services,” DiVincenzo said. “At a time when all levels of government have raided their surpluses… our fund balance has aided us in times of severe fiscal distress. At the beginning of the recession, it prevented furloughs and layoffs, keeping people employed,and all along allowed us to improve our credit and bond rating,” he said.
“Our revenue streams have remained strong. Yes, they generate critical funding for the County budget, but they also highlight the fact that when agencies and local levels of government are looking to partner in a shared service agreement or contract for service, they have selected Essex County,” he pointed out. Among those facilities involved in shared service agreements are the Correctional Facility, Juvenile Detention Facility and Hospital Center.
“It was my decision to come here tonight because this is where I grew up. Essex County was home to me and it will always be home for me,” Governor Chris Christie said. “This is an important time in our history, and as we work county by county to get our lives back to normal after Hurricane Sandy, we need visionary leaders to put aside politics to make sure we are able to rebuild better and stronger. Tonight is a great time to celebrate smooth, efficient and effective government and affirm the bipartisan spirit,” he added.
“Working in government is hard when financial times are difficult, but Essex County is extremely fortunate to have Joe D as its County Executive,” Senate President Sweeney said. “I congratulate you for all of your hard work and the progress you have made,” he added.
“I get to see Essex County operate every day, and I see first-hand what Joe DiVincenzo has been doing. There is no question that Joe is the best County Executive that Essex County has had since the office was created in 1978,” Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver said. “Joe, you know that we are all here for you,” she added.
“What’s happening in Newark is incredible, but so much of it is due to our partnership with Essex County. Together, we developed the first new park in a generation and helped recapture our waterfront,” Newark Mayor Cory Booker said, referring to the opening of Essex County Riverfront Park in Newark’s Ironbound neighborhood. “Joe D is what leadership is all about,” he added.
“Our emphasis has been on progress and stability, and we have demonstrated what can be accomplished when the Freeholders and the County Executive work together,” Freeholder President Blonnie Watson said. “I have confidence we will continue to meet the challenges through sound government and keep Essex County as the people’s choice to do business and call home,” she added.
The second subject DiVincenzo addressed was the continuing modernization of the historic Essex County Parks System. “Miles of green in our historic park system have been restored, upgraded and modernized. With state-of-the-art sports facilities and newly created and acquired recreational areas, our registry of open spaces is meeting the needs of our communities and offering free or affordable venues in our own backyards,” he noted. Among the projects completed in 2012 were new entranceways at Becker and Weequahic Parks, the Youth Learning Center for The First Tee at Weequahic Golf Course, expanded bocce facilities in Verona Park created in partnership with Miami Dolphins player Anthony Fasano, a new dock and decorative lighting in Verona Park, a synthetic playing surface on the Luis Lopez Baseball Diamond in Branch Brook Park, 20 resurfaces courts and a renovated clubhouse in the Althea Gibson Tennis Complex in Branch Brook Park, a revitalized Music Court area in Branch Brook Park, upgraded hiking trails in South Mountain Reservation and the opening of the new 12.3-acre Riverfront Park in Newark.
Turtle Back Zoo continued to be a premiere destination attraction, setting a new annual attendance record of over 560,000 visitors and a new annual revenue record of $4.3 million from the zoo, mini-golf, Treetop Adventure and McLoone’s lease. Other highlights at the South Mountain Recreation Complex were the construction of an open-air pavilion at the miniGOLF Safari, the addition of a Komodo dragon and the complete overhaul of Rink 2 in Codey Arena. New Energy and Conservation Exhibits and a new library and multi-purpose room opened at the Environmental Center. Several infrastructure projects were highlighted, including the repaving of Northfield Avenue and Northfield Road, the reconstruction of the two bridges on Parsonage Hill Road, the reconstruction of the Diamond Mill Pond Dam in South Mountain Reservation and the modernization of the Belleville Avenue and JFK Drive intersection.
“Upgrading our network of roads, restoring our community backyards and implementing a comprehensive approach to improving our quality of life remain cornerstones of our government,” DiVincenzo said. “Twenty two towns, each very different and all very much the same, residents looking to fulfill the American dream, working hard for their families, and planning for their futures. However with the Nation, State, County and our towns all experiencing the impact from one of history’s greatest economic downturns, more and more families are seeking help,” he said.
Essex County is assisting those in need by providing food stamps, temporary rental and general assistance, and emergency utility payments to those who qualify. Other initiatives to stabilize communities are job readiness programs for dislocated workers, young adults and former detainees, and grant programs to municipalities and social service agencies to create affordable housing and enhance their infrastructure.
The County Executive also highlighted accomplishments by the Essex County Vocational Technical School District. These included Bloomfield Tech teacher Indira Bailey being recognized as Essex County Teacher of the Year and a finalist for the state title, West Caldwell Tech teacher Tiffany Morey being recognized by the National Association of Agriculture Educators, West Caldwell Tech earning a National Blue Ribbon Designation, Newark Tech receiving a Title I Distinguished School Award from the U.S. Department of Education and US News and World Report naming named North 13thStreet Tech one of the top schools in the country.
2012 was a time when many people who have influenced the development of Essex County were honored. The legacies of tennis legend Althea Gibson, professional baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente and the late Congressman Donald M. Payne, all trailblazers and pioneers, but, most importantly, humanitarians, were recognized with bronze statues. Other recognitions included naming a field at Ivy Hill Park after Seton Hall University Baseball Coach Emeritus Mike Sheppard, the Clubhouse at Weequahic Golf Course after the late Charles Johnson, a partner who helped bring The First Tee Program; and the basketball complex in Weequahic in honor of the late Delano Gordon, founder of Above the Rim. A memorial was created for the late Superior Court Judge Tim McMormack who helped shape the executive form of government; an intersection was named for attorney and community activist Frederico Velez; a memorial celebration was held for the late LeRoy Smith, an EMS legend; a ceremony was held to honor Bo Porter, the first Essex County native to serve as a major league baseball manager in modern times; the music room in the Hospital Center was named for Charles Palo, a former resident of the hospital who found peace and comfort in music; and the Essex County Veterans Memorial was developed in Glendale Cemetery to properly honor those who have served our country.
“The past 365 days gave us great opportunities to continue Putting Essex County First. And now in the midst of winter, my team and I are eager to usher in the seasons with new projects and a renewed commitment to quality service,” DiVincenzo said before introducing a list of projects for 2013. These include an addition to the Newark Tech campus; an Education Center and Sea Lion Exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo, which is celebrating its 50thanniversary this year; a new Public Works headquarters; continued upgrades to the Clifton Avenue entrance to Branch Brook Park, including new ornamental fencing, landscaping and an open-air pavilion on Concourse Hill, as well as a two-mile rubberized track at the great lawn with five exercise stations. Other projects are plantings and a new irrigation system at Anderson Park, new lighting and entranceway enhancements at Brookdale Park, ADA accessibility upgrades to the parking lot at Grover Cleveland Park, the stabilization of the banks of the Weequahic Park Lake, a native plant revitalization project at Hilltop Reservation and having the roof and windows repaired at Kip’s Castle Park.
“While we will offer new sites and grounds to explore, our team remains committed to improving the quality of life for all of our 22 towns, maintaining our great facilities, continuing our ongoing ethics and professional training, and offering an open and responsive government that works for you – the people of Essex County,” he noted. “Whether we plow and salt roads in winter, or welcome you to the iris blooms in spring, ask you to rock out at a concert in summer or invite your children to trick or treat at the zoo in the fall, whatever the season, 2013 is another year we will continue Putting Essex County First,” he concluded.