I want to welcome all of you to the 2013 freeholder organization meeting.
I thank the many elected officials for being here today along with members of the public and the Ocean County Government family.
I want to extend congratulations to my colleagues John Bartlett and Gerry Little as they are sworn into their new three year terms on the Board of Freeholders.
Both John and Gerry work hard each and every day for the citizens of Ocean County and we are all well served by them.
I also want to take a moment to remember our good friend Sheriff Bill Polhemus.
Today Bill would have been sworn into his 10th term as Ocean County sheriff having won re-election in November. Instead we mourn his passing and remember his family in our prayers.
The annual freeholder organization meeting is generally a time to reflect on the year that has gone by and to talk about what we see for Ocean County in the New Year.
Last year, this Board of Freeholders faced budgetary constraints and continued its implementation of fiscal belt tightening measures that allowed us to maintain staffing and provide essential county services.
But last year, also brought us our greatest challenge – Superstorm Sandy.
This was a storm that brought devastating damage to our coastline and portions of our mainland. It affected thousands of our citizens and its impact continues to be felt today.
This storm may have broken our hearts but it didn’t break our resolve.
In the days following the storm this county came together like never before. I want to extend my appreciation to all of the mayors that have been providing round the clock help to their citizens, to all the volunteer emergency responders, firefighters, first aid squad members, who risked their lives to help our residents. I want to thank all of the police officers and their chiefs for never abandoning the people they pledged to protect and serve.
I will never forget the heroic actions of so very many as neighbors helped neighbors.
I would like to personally thank the Obama administration and in particular Vice President Biden who visited Seaside Heights and areas of Ocean County. I want to express my appreciation for their rapid response to the storm. Our Congressional leaders and our state leaders all came together to help. They quickly met the needs of this county and continue to do so as we work together to rebuild.
And throughout all of these efforts, no one worked harder than the Governor of this great state – Chris Christie.
Gov. Christie was the one who reached out to the Obama administration. He made certain we had immediate help. His state agencies like the Department of Transportation, have been extremely helpful as work continues to rebuild roads ruined by the storm. Gov. Christie has made a solemn promise to help our towns and our residents. His many visits and his actions throughout this time show his unwavering commitment to work with all of us – at the county and at the local levels - in order to rebuild the shore.
And, this year, we pledge that together we will rebuild Ocean County.
Since the early days after this storm, this Board along with Ocean County Administrator Carl Block, has worked closely with the mayors and so many local officials taking steps to help in any way possible.
Our Ocean County Office of Emergency Management has worked as a clearinghouse for numerous requests for municipal assistance.
Our Road Department has assisted with moving sand from the streets of towns crippled by this storm and put it back on beaches. The road department, under the leadership of Freeholder Jim Lacey, has worked tirelessly putting our infrastructure back together.
I am proud to serve as liaison to the Ocean County Engineering Department which has worked to make sure our roads and bridges are safe for motorists.
We maintained constant communications with utility companies as they worked to rebuild systems destroyed by the storm. All of our utility companies, from natural gas, electric to water and sewer, whether on Long Beach Island or the Northern Barrier Island, worked in concert with local municipalities to help get things up and running again.
We are working with the towns to make sure the mounds and mounds of debris that resulted from this storm have been removed from outside of homes and from the curbs and disposed of properly.
The list of actions taken by the county to aid our mayors and their towns is a long one and that assistance will continue into this New Year.
All five freeholders strongly support Freeholder Vicari’s efforts to help the tourism industry in Ocean County get back on its feet. It is imperative that agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Environmental Protection work in concert to make sure Barnegat Bay is safe for boaters when the warm weather rolls around this year. I am pleased to announce that this Friday, I have scheduled a conference call along with County Administrator Block and DEP Commissioner Martin to move this issue from preliminary discussions to the actions that will have to take place in order to clean up the bay.
As Freeholder Vicari stresses, it is important that everyone support businesses – large and small – in Ocean County so that they can continue to provide jobs and remain an integral part of the economy.
Tourism provides $4 billion to the local economy in Ocean County and helps to provide more than 65,000 jobs annually. We will not abandon the industry that provides great benefits to our economic engine.
We also know that many of our residents continue to be displaced. They face difficult decisions and monumental challenges. Many with their primary homes in ruin are trying to answer questions like “do I rebuild? Can I afford to do it? Do I stay at the shore?” The strength of so many of our citizens has been tested over and over again. And we must let them know we are here to continue to help and support them.
Under the leadership of Freeholder Gerry Little, our social service agencies, along with many non profit organizations and volunteer groups are providing ongoing assistance to our citizens, and we appreciate those efforts.
I know that for many of our citizens the task at hand is overwhelming. But you will get there. With hope and with hard work, everyone can successfully make it down the road that has been placed before them. It will take time but it will be ok.
As in the past I will work closely with my colleagues to develop a budget that will continue to provide the essential services many of our citizens have come to rely on.
Under the direction of Freeholder John Bartlett, who has been the architect of the county’s budget for many years, we will meet new financial challenges head on including the ongoing storm affects, and changes in property tax assessments. However we will continue to take a conservative approach to finances knowing this is a priority for our taxpayers. We also are working closely with the state and federal governments to insure storm reimbursements are made to the county. As director of the board, I will work hand in hand with Freeholder Bartlett in developing the 2013 financial plan.
Every year comes with its own personality and traits. This New Year comes with many challenges. They are financial, they are emotional and they are personal.
While this will be a difficult year for so many I have to believe that with God’s help it will lead to better times for all of us.
Together we will rebuild Ocean County. Together we will make sure no one is left behind. Together we will make this happen and together we will celebrate making Ocean County whole again.