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Freeholder Linda Stender Chairman's Message

Union County Board of Freeholder's Reorganization Meeting January 5, 1997

Members of the Freeholder Board, Distinguished Guests, Friends and Family again Good Afternoon and Happy New Year to you all.

On behalf of Vice Chairman Sullivan and myself I want to begin by thanking the members of the Freeholder Board for the faith you have placed in us to serve as your leadership team.

In a world that increasingly demands each of us to deal with complexity and ambiguity,1997 will be a year of challenges and hard work. My vision for the coming year is based on the expectation that as a board we will work together to provide Union County with the strong leadership necessary to meet the needs of today while building for the future. I have been honored to work with each of you, be you in the majority and minority members... while I recognize that there will be times that we may disagree on issues of policy I know that we can and must achieve bipartisan support on those issues of vital concern for the residents of this county.

As we focus on our tasks during the final stages of this millennium, clearly a new age of technology, information and global competition has taken hold. The impact on our culture has already reached dramatic proportions.

The changes of the new era, create new opportunities and present awesome challenges. The Truth dictates that regardless of the era people still want decent jobs and decent wages and the opportunity for a better life. From these facts emerge fundamental questions which must be answered by identifiable and quantifiable results.

The issue of improving the Union County economy and the need for the creation of good jobs must influence our efforts in all regards, the goal to which we direct our energies. The budget we adopt, the quality of life issues we address all must be evaluated within the context of how our actions will impact on our ability to improve our economic standing. We are, after all the Gatekeepers of our Gateway County.

The past three years has served to incubate the issue, bringing people and key constituencies together through the Union County Alliance, hosting round tables and adopting a strategic plan. We know that after the decimation which has occurred from the loss of manufacturing a key to turning the Union County economy around is the investment in our transportation infrastructure.

In partnership with the private sector, state and federal government the port must be dredged; and the rail and road systems improved to ensure the mobility of goods. Those investments are essential if we are to make the transition into the new global economy of international trade.

This year for the first time I will ask that our capital budget be reviewed and careful scrutinized to work in consort with economic development planning and the policy priorities of the board.

Attracting jobs... converting the dormant assets of vacant industrial sites into distribution centers for the goods which can easily flow through our port or other productive use. These are all priorities of this freeholder board.

I propose two initiatives in addition to those already in the planning stages. The first one is an internal but substantive change. I am proposing that the existing standing committees of the Freeholder Board be changed. Policy and Administrative code should be combined and a new committee defined to focus on the counties role in economic development. At our first agenda session I will refer this issue to policy for review and ask them to report on the initiative within 30 days . It is my intention to appoint Freeholder Goncalves as the Chairman of the newly defined standing committee.

Additionally I propose that we host a Financial Summit to bring our financial leaders together to secure their input on how we achieve the financing necessary to move our economic agenda forward. The goal of improving Union County's economy must work in tandem with our other actions and policies.

One of our first responsibility is to adopt a management plan. We in government call it a budget, the resources that drive the budget ... our taxpayers dollars become our road map and directs our energies to accomplishing the goals that our residents fund.

And notice I say our residents... for in order for any road map to be responsive to the priority of our county's taxpayers, I believe that we have to make a commitment to study and to ask our residents not only what they want but what they need from county services.

This past fall we said that the challenge in 1997 would not be to keep the budget flat but to cut it... the only responsible way to do more with less is to prioritize our services to meet our taxpayers needs and wants. There are some 500,000 residents of UC. It is our job to assure that their voices are heard.

Freeholder McNeil will chair the Fiscal Affairs Committee and lead our efforts to achieve cost savings in our budget. Clearly hard choices will need to be made,... as a responsive government, we will make sure that we understand our "people's priorities as we scrutinize the budget and allocate our resources. Establishing a continuing dialogue with county residents to guide us in our decision making for the coming year is clearly a priority.

In concert with our budget goals, I am also going to direct the County Manager to place more emphasis on seeking grant dollars from public and private foundations.

Within the county's jurisdiction of public safety there are three specific areas in which the discussions of last year must be revisited. The need for a Juvenile Detention Facility has never been disputed. In 1997 1 believe we will we will move forward on a project that meets the county's needs and ability to pay.

The problems of the Union County Jail have been well documented by the press. 'the first step of hiring a top notch professional administrator and deputy administrator has been accomplished by the administration in 1996. In the coming year I look forward to the Jail Task Force Committees active interaction and oversight as we work to address the deficiencies noted by the National Institute of Corrections reports.

The Board of Chosen Freeholders will also revisit the proposed expansion of the Police Academy, as our integral part of providing well trained police officers to our residents.

As a citizen, as a Mayor and as a Freeholder I have long been an advocate of shared service as a means of reducing costs and improving services. Building partnerships with the 21 municipalities and expanding it to our school districts can and must make our operation leaner and more efficient.

Three years ago the county hosted a shared services forum as a means of opening the dialogue. This year we will reconvene the forum to evaluate the results and seek consensus for the creation of new shared services.1 know that cost savings to our residents will be the result.

Again, we know we must continually seek to do more with less. No where is that more evident than in social services. Funding has been cut by both the state and federal government. No matter how the positives or negative of reform are to be judged, the fact remains that county government now has the responsibility of devising solutions to meet those needs.

I believe we must revisit the JTPA funding to evaluate how we can better use those dollars. My goal for this year is to implement a pilot program which would use JTPA dollars to train welfare mothers as day care providers. Working with our economic development agencies and our financial institutions, a day care center would be established which provides jobs and expands availability for needed affordable day care. Structured as a business cooperative, workers would have the option of paying for services or earning the services based on the time they contribute.

Union County must prepare to handle the imminent solid waste crisis created by the combination of old state mandates, recent Supreme Court decisions and a disinterested majority of the US Congress. Let me be clear. All steps will be taken by this board to ensure that the costs of county solid waste disposal will remain competitive in an arena that is ever changing. And let me assure you that the goal of this board will be to set into place policy which will result in reduced solid waste costs for every home owner and commercial business within the borders of our 21 towns. We will be reviewing all alternatives to lower costs and ensure a economically viable facility.

Meeting the responsibilities of our stewardship of this county to protect, preserve and restore our environment is every bit as much an economic development issue as it one of quality of life.

This year as part of our commitment to our environment and in our role as Gatekeepers of this county we will look to reallocate our resources to clean our roads of trash and improve our appearances through the adoption of a tree planting plan which will focus on making our County more attractive to visitors and residents alike.

As we begin our year the work we undertake is serious business for this board and for our residents. We have a full agenda Somewhere it is written that "the past is prologue" which I like to think means the best is yet to come.

I look forward to working with all the residents of Union County, the employees the members of the Board, and other elected officials. Together there isn't any challenge we cannot meet.. I believe that and hope you do too. Have a wonderful day. Thank you for attending and for your attention.

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