Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise told the Board of Freeholders on March 10 in his 2016 State of the County address that he sees “promise and excitement” for the future.
Coming up, residents will see a new county courthouse in Journal Square, the extension of the Hudson Bergen Light Rail to Route 440 in Jersey City, a new High Tech High School campus in Secaucus, new strategies to handle homelessness, and a more rehabilitative approach to reducing prison recidivism.
DeGise said in the next four years, along with the growth of a new Journal Square currently undergoing development of large residential projects, the county will develop a new court house complex.
“This is a project that will likely extend beyond this term,” DeGise said. “However, we can ensure that the needed space for a new courthouse is fully ready for construction. We will develop a quality design during this term, with a focus on needs, rather than wants.” He said while the neighborhood is going to change, the county commitment to the area will remain steady.
“Over the next four years, we will prudently move forward with the remaining land acquisition, site design, and planning for a new Criminal Court House. – Tom DeGise
Journal Square, he said, will offer “a vibrant new streetscape, a home to new restaurants, new shops and new energy.”
Expansion of the light rail
DeGise plans to push to get the Hudson Bergen Light Rail line extended from its terminus on West Side Avenue to Route 440 to help spur residential and commercial development.
“Mass transit is a key driver of new economic development,” DeGise said. “This project is key to fully unlocking the growth potential of a huge section of the West Side of Jersey City.” The Bayside area is zoned for 4,100 residential units and commercial space.
“If we connect it to the light rail, it will allow the construction of 8,200 units and double the commercial space. This will of course dramatically increase the potential tax and land sale revenues for Jersey City.”
A new high tech high school
“This spring we will break ground on the new campus for High Tech High School adjacent to Laurel Hill Park in Secaucus,” DeGise said. “We expect it to open for classes in the fall of 2018.”
He said 59 percent of the debt service for construction will be paid for by the state.
“And we also had help from Trenton when it came to building the new High Tech faster and more economically,” he said. “State legislation passed in 2015 allowed us to employ a design-build process to save time and money on construction.”
DeGise said the county is committed to providing students with technological education, which is why plans include constructing a new addition to County Prep in Jersey City, and why the county partnered with Jersey City to bring a new, STEM-focused Middle School Program to the former Golden Door Charter School near Marin Drive.
Building homeless initiatives
Last year, the county opened an overnight warming center to house those unable to get space in local shelters. DeGise said during his new term, the county will continue to create new ways to cope with homelessness.
“In order to ensure those most in need are provided shelter, services and know about the warming center, we’ve created a homeless street outreach team,” he said. “Jointly funded with the City of Jersey City, the team engages the homeless directly on the street and helps connect them to the services and shelter they need.”
The county’s “Housing First” program also seeks to find permanent housing for the homeless.
“Because of our work on this approach, I am proud to say the Obama Administration has recognized us as an Innovation Community,” DeGise said. “We will stay at the forefront of this effort during this term, and I hope, beyond.”
Last year, DeGise called for an end to veteran’s homelessness in Hudson County.
“Since then, thanks to the outstanding work of county staff and our partners in the Alliance to End Homelessness, the number of homeless veterans in Hudson County has decreased by forty percent,” he said. “I recently took part in the announcement of the newest program to assist Homeless Veterans at the American Legion Post in Hoboken. This initiative and others in Jersey City make us confident that soon we will be able to announce that we have effectively ended homelessness for veterans in Hudson County.”
Although the county has strengthened collaboration with non-profit partners, the biggest challenge remains lack of funding for homeless programs.
“Sadly, we’ve also just received notification of a thirty-six percent cut in the county’s Emergency Solutions Grant Program, which funds our shelters and street outreach team,” he said.
A smarter approach to corrections
Hudson County has become a state and national leader in reducing recidivism through its groundbreaking prisoner re-entry program, DeGise said.
“Today inmates can get drug treatment, job training, and be connected with social services like housing and public assistance while they are in jail,” he said. “This helps them stay out of jail after they are released.”
To signal a more humane approach, DeGise said he intends to change the name of the county’s Department of Corrections to The Department of Corrections And Rehabilitation.
He said in his new term there will also be more programming for parks, more effective outreach to women and minority-owned businesses, and a range of other initiatives.
“This is the first State of the County to be presented in the freeholder’s new chambers,” he said. “We held off on presenting this year’s address in order to be part of this historic first meeting.”
The county purchased the Annex on Pavonia Avenue near Journal Square after more than two decades renting the building, and which is currently undergoing significant upgrades.
“That purchase was another example of our long-standing policy that county services are better delivered in spaces we own rather than in ones we rent,” DeGise said.
The annex is among a number of such purchases which include the former Block Drug site near Montgomery Street (now called Hudson County Plaza) and a former bank building at 830 Bergen Ave. which houses the Hudson County Improvement Authority and other county offices.
“We transformed the decrepit Warehouse 77 into the high tech Juneau Center (in Kearny) for emergency operations and storage for the (Hudson County) Prosecutor,” DeGise said. “We literally built a bridge between our Welfare and Job Training One-Stop Center and the (Hudson County) Community College. We supported the construction of a new North Hudson Campus, a new Culinary Arts Center, a new Library Media Center and a New STEM building for the Community College.”
He said this wave of construction also included rebuilding sporting facilities in the county parks.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.