Unable to resist allusions to his favorite baseball team, the New York Mets, County Executive Tom DeGise laid out last week what he hopes will be a winning strategy for the future of Hudson County in his first State of the County address since being re-elected.
“Much like spring training in baseball, the start of a new term is usually filled with optimism about what can be accomplished in the future,” DeGise told the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders on Feb. 14. “The optimism really grows when your team enjoys a proven record, and stands ready to reach for new and exciting goals that can only be described, at least by lucky Mets fans, as ‘Johan Santana level.’ ”
DeGise was referring to the up-and-down baseball team’s recent signing of a new star pitcher for the upcoming season, which portends good thing to come.
Some of the changes
In looking back briefly, DeGise credited the freeholder board as coming together with his administration to seek changes. These include adding 96 acres of additional open space throughout the county, creating summer jobs and college opportunities for youth, and a prescription drug plan and new medical transportation for senior citizens.
The county, he said, has helped municipalities by providing loans through the Hudson County Improvement Authority and provided security for the Office of Emergency Management. The county has also seen accomplishments in historic preservation and efforts to restore certainty in government through ethics reform.
In the future, the county will continue some of its efforts to upgrade facilities, such as the creation of a new county facility called Hudson County Plaza. Safety and environmental improvements throughout the county will also continue, he said.
“Today our residents are safer, our environment is healthier, our unemployment rate is lower and our quality of life is better,” DeGise said. “While we are pleased that the state of our county is strong, we understand Hudson County is not an island. Anyone who reads a newspaper or watches the evening news understands that clouds may be on the horizon when it comes to our national economy.”
He added, “While we were delivering honest meat and potatoes budgets, Washington and Trenton were busy running up debts to cover their costs. Now they are in poor shape to head off what appears to be an oncoming recession. So we must do what we can, right here, as Roosevelt said, to ready ourselves for the coming storm.”
But he said in tightening the county’s fiscal belt, the administration must still plan for the future.
The county will continue to increase open space and preserve historic places, as well as increase education opportunities through a true “continuum of workforce investment” for those in need of trade and business skills.
DeGise said the administration will continue its 10-year plan to eradicate chronic homelessness, as well as improving security, the county road system and reforming the correctional system.
“This year, we will seek about $100,000 from the Open Space Trust as a down payment on our pledge to add 10,000 trees to county roads and parks,” DeGise said.
New regulations will encourage developers to include more environmentally friendly elements to their projects, from solar panels on rooftops and better landscaping to establishing retention ponds against flooding and the use of permeable black top for parking areas.
DeGise asked the freeholders to approve a two-floor extension to the newly opened North Hudson Campus of Hudson County Community College for a Career Development Center.
“Getting welfare recipients the skills needed so they can move from dependency to the dignity of work has been a key component of our ‘breaking the cycle’ approach to welfare reform,” he said. “A workforce has to be built from the bottom up, as well as from the top down. Building a new CDC will help us do it.”
DeGise also urged the freeholders to seek a new combined campus for the Schools of Technology.
“A new state of the art campus would replace two antiquated buildings. High Tech is housed in an 80-year-old factory, and County Prep operates in a former shared time vocational school,” he said. “Having our students under one roof will allow them to participate in any curriculum we offer. That is physically and financially impossible now. This spring, the Freeholder Board will receive a feasibility study focused on which site would make the most sense for a new campus.”
Helping the homeless
In trying to deal with homelessness, DeGise said the county is exploring the possibility of creating homeless courts.
“These courts would help the homeless clear misdemeanor offenses from their records so they can qualify for housing,” he said. “We owe the homeless and our over-burdened healthcare and social services systems a new approach.”