I want to welcome all of you to the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders 2014 Organization meeting.
It is a privilege to serve as Director of the Board this year.
I want to congratulate my colleagues Jack Kelly and Jim Lacey as they return to the dais to begin serving new three year terms on the Board of Freeholders. Each has served on this Board since first elected in 1993 and both have worked tirelessly for the citizens of this great County.
It was with Jack and Jim, serving as director and deputy director respectively in 2013 that we faced many unprecedented challenges and while it may have been a difficult year we were still able to provide quality services and programs to the nearly 600,000 people that call Ocean County home.
Despite the challenges that came with Superstorm Sandy in 2012, including a substantial decrease in our ratable base, a fractured infrastructure and devastating loss to thousands of our residents, Ocean County government persevered.
Past planning practices especially this board’s conservative fiscal policies allowed for us to continue providing services and programs that are relied upon by our citizens. From home delivered meals to community outreach through our library systems, the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders continued its ongoing pledge to be there for all its citizens.
Even in the face of financial challenges, this Board, with the leadership of Freeholder John Bartlett was able to maintain a AAA bond rating – the highest possible rating which truly highlights that our approach to finances works in Ocean County and it works well. We also saw a decrease in the amount raised by taxation in 2013.
It was the collective efforts of this board that resulted in more than 1.5 million cubic yards of debris removed from roadways and rights of way and away from the homes of our residents who suffered catastrophic losses from Superstorm Sandy that allowed the recovery and rebuilding of Ocean County to begin.
And Barnegat Bay, which became a watery ending to 54 homes, was cleaned up with the assistance of the state of New Jersey giving us back an environmental jewel.
While there is still much work to be done to bring Ocean County back to a new sense of normal, we can look back at 2013 and know we have done much already.
In the New Year, I have set goals in order to help residents and businesses not only recover from the Superstorm but to succeed again.
As you may know, tourism brings in more than $4 billion each year and helps to create upwards of 70,000 jobs. This year, in an effort to look at the industry as a year-round industry, I have combined the office of Tourism with Business Development. We will work to secure grants for businesses so they can flourish again. In a county, where mom and pop businesses are the backbone of the economy, I will step up efforts to help.
I will continue to also work with Joint Base – McGuire, Dix, Lakehurst to tap into the economic value of this base, encouraging its workers and military personnel stationed there to be a greater part of Ocean County.
For our citizens and their children, I will continue to support the Ocean County Vocational Technical Schools so they can continue to be the nationally recognized educational facilities that they are. Whether the MATES program, our culinary program, the arts or learning a trade, the various skills taught at each center is a lifelong learning tool that will help our students and adults secure better jobs and provide more opportunities.
The four-year partnership that Ocean County College now has in place with Kean University will give our students the chance to get a four-year degree that is affordable, that is convenient and that is respected. Education is so very important today and this Board has made every effort to give our citizens the ability to tap into higher education possibilities.
And, the Ocean County Library system will continue to connect with all of our communities in order to provide a safe and secure environment where you can learn, where you can relax and where you can get help on a host of topics from writing resumes to FEMA information.
This year, I look forward to working with our new sheriff Mike Mastronardy and also with our Prosecutor Joe Coronato. We face many challenges in our communities, but none as disheartening as the loss of life being created by heroin and drugs. I will support their efforts to help those battling addiction and to reduce the loss of life here in the County.
Ocean County has a very diverse population, from year-round residents to summer visitors, from families to retirees.
We are home to the largest senior population in the state.
As Chairman of Senior Services, I continue the pledge of this board to make certain the elderly and vulnerable do not go without a meal. I will also continue to advocate for stability in Social Security, Medicare, and senior programs which serve as lifelines to an aging population.
Each New Year comes with its challenges but it is also a time to look ahead with optimism and believe in the good that is out there.
In both 2012 with Superstorm Sandy and in 2013 with the fire on the Seaside boardwalk we saw our volunteers, fire and first aid, and all emergency responders come to the aid of those in need. I would be remiss not to offer up the thanks of this County for their remarkable efforts.
As Director for 2014 I resolve to continue to provide the core services to our residents.
Taxpayers expect to have their roads plowed, seniors expect to be able to access programs that will help them navigate retirement and their later years and our children deserve good, solid educational opportunities.
These services will come with no surprises when it comes to the County’s finances. The 2014 budget will be based on the county’s financial stability as it has been in the past.
And, I know that I am joined by my colleagues on the board, as I pledge to those residents who are still not back home more than a year after the storm, that whatever we can do to help, whether it is through our Consumer Affairs Department or our library system, or other actions, we will be there for you. You have not been forgotten.
In closing I would like to wish each and every one of you a Very Happy, Healthy and Blessed New Year. And, I look forward to working with each of you as we meet the challenges of a new day in Ocean County.