I want to wish everyone here today a happy and healthy New Year and a warm welcome to the 2021 Organization Meeting of the Ocean County Board of Commissioners.
Right at the start of the New Year, we saw change as we transitioned to the title of Commissioners from Freeholders. It is something that will take a little time to get use to but we are working on it.
I would like to thank my fellow Commissioners for naming me Director for 2021. I would also like to thank Commissioner Joseph Vicari for his leadership as director of the board in 2020 - certainly a year that brought us more challenges than we could ever imagine.
I also want to congratulate Commissioner Vicari on his sound re-election to a new term on the board. He is the longest sitting elected county government official in the state. That is truly an accomplishment and a testament to his service to the public.
Congratulations also goes to County Clerk Scott Colabella, who was sworn in to a new five year term earlier this week and to his deputy, Barbara Lanuto, who was also sworn in this week. The programs and services provided by the County Clerk office are second to none.
I want to acknowledge Commissioner Little for being named Deputy Director for 2021. He works tirelessly as liaison to the Ocean County Health Department – an agency that has headed up our county’s response to the COVID 19 pandemic. I know I am truly proud of the work done by our health department in providing a quick response for testing and now for vaccinating against COVID 19. The staff there under the direction of Public Health Coordinator Dan Regenye has gone above and beyond in their efforts to serve our residents. Their dedication has never wavered in the months that we have lived with this virus. I want to extend our collective appreciation to Commissioner Little and the Ocean County Health Department during a very difficult time.
Where do we start as we talk about this New Year? I don’t think we can talk about it without looking back at 2020. Certainly 2020 started out just like any other year and quickly turned into something none of us had experienced before.
We closed our buildings, our parks, and our roads emptied. Doctors and grocery store clerks became heroes along with delivery drivers, nurses, government workers, law enforcement and EMTs just to name a few. So many left their homes not knowing what the day would bring but with the realization that their work was essential. We could only react in most cases to a virus that spread rapidly, that didn’t differentiate between color, gender, economic status. That took the lives of more than 1,300 of our residents.
So as we turn the page on a new year, the question becomes where do we go from here?
The good news is we are starting to see the rollout of the vaccination to curtail the spread of the COVID 19. And while the task ahead is monumental it is the greatest hope we have to end this deadly virus that has affected so many of us.
I can assure you, the Ocean County Board of Commissioners will continue to provide you with the best services and programs possible, albeit the delivery may be a bit different in order to protect the health and safety of our staff and our residents.
As we look ahead to 2021, I can promise our residents that there will be no surprises when we announce the county budget.
Under the direction of Commissioner Jack Kelly, who serves as liaison to the Finance Department, this board will again present a budget that combines affordability with outstanding core services. We will also continue to maintain our AAA Bond rating – the highest bond rating available to government. This board take’s its financial responsibilities very seriously and we can ensure you that we will not mortgage our children’s future or our grandchildren’s future.
We will continue in the New Year to make every effort to help our small businesses recover from the pandemic. We don’t want to lose another restaurant or another mom and pop business in Ocean County due to coronavirus restrictions. We will continue to find ways to help so they can recover and once again thrive.
Under the leadership of Commissioner Vicari, our seniors will continue to be able to access services that will allow them to live independently and safely under their own roof.
The Board late last year approved contracts that will allow for the delivery of almost 2,000 home delivered meals a day to our most frail and vulnerable seniors.
Our veterans, with the staunch support of Commissioner Little, will also be provided beneficial services and programs as to never be forgotten for the sacrifices they have made for our democracy and freedom.
Under the guidance of Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer, Warden Sandra Mueller, and Commissioner Kelly, our Director of Law and Public Safety, we continue to make certain the bad guy is locked up and all of our citizens can live safely and peacefully in Ocean County.
Each area of law enforcement works to uphold the law while creating innovative programs to help those in need including those addicted to drugs, domestic violence victims, and abused children among others. More than just incarceration, they look for ways to assist and rehabilitate.
Our public transportation system, Ocean Ride, will continue to provide critical services in 2021 as they move our residents around Ocean County whether for medical appointments, to jobs or for basic necessities like food shopping. Our drivers and the staff at Ocean Ride make a significant difference to our seniors and other citizens that may have no other means to get around.
We will continue to protect our environment, through the preservation of open space under Commissioner Haines, who continues to make sure the priority of the Natural Lands Trust Fund program is first and foremost to preserve our open spaces. Ginny works tirelessly in making certain our parks are within reach of every County resident, providing recreational and leisure opportunities all year long. All of this helps to protect Barnegat Bay. Our environment is priceless and making certain it’s protected has always been a priority for this Board.
We are also a Board that wants to provide opportunities to our residents. Our Ocean County Vocational-Technical schools, under Commissioner Vicari and Ocean County College, under Commissioner Haines, are second to none. Our library system, the largest public library system in the state, is a jewel that offers something for everyone.
As elected officials and the leaders of county government, we work hard to do what’s best for the people of Ocean County, but I would surely be remiss if I didn’t recognize a group of people, without whom, we could not do our jobs. I want to personally thank our county employees, from our administrator to our department heads to our laborers and clerks. These are the men and women who work tirelessly in good times and bad, bringing the best possible services to our residents.
We would be fooling ourselves if we didn’t think 2021 would not come with many challenges. Unfortunately we didn’t go to sleep Dec. 31 and wake up on Jan. 1 to find the pandemic ended, there would be no more heartache from its losses and no more tests posed by it.
But I can assure you that we will continue to work hard for you every day. We will provide the services you need. And we will come out of this stronger so long as we continue to work together for the common good –the health, safety and welfare of all.