It is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the 2019 Organization meeting of the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders. I want to wish everyone here and all of our citizens a Happy and Healthy New Year. It holds great promise.
I would like to take a moment to thank the Reverend Monsignor John Wehrlen, Reverend James Occhipinti and Rabbi Yisroel Schenkolewski for joining us today and offering up Gods blessings for the year ahead.
I want to congratulate Freeholder Gerry Little on being sworn in to a new three-year term on the Board. He has been serving all of the County’s residents since 2003 with great dedication and commitment. I want to compliment him on his leadership of the Board last year when he served as Director.
I want to be the first to welcome Gary Quinn to his seat on the dais as our newest Freeholder. I believe I can speak on behalf of all the freeholders when I say we all look forward to working with you. I know you bring a wealth of experience and leadership to this team and to Ocean County Government. I am sure our County citizens will be seeing great things from you.
I also want to congratulate Freeholder Kelly on being named Deputy Director of the Board for 2019. I look forward to working with you and also Freeholder Vicari in the New Year as we continue to provide quality programs for all of our residents.
Today, of course, is also bittersweet for us. For the first time in 40 years, we are not welcoming our long-time friend and colleague, John Bartlett Jr. back to the dais. John’s passing on Dec. 12 is still very raw for all of us here. Certainly, his many achievements and his legacies will not be forgotten. It is my hope that in the New Year we continue to advance the many programs John had championed. Moreover, we continue to build on all of his successes.
Every New Year brings a mix of blessings and challenges. Here in Ocean County we are blessed in many many ways. We have a Board of Freeholders that makes every effort to work together in order to provide the best programs and services to its residents while keeping a close eye on the tax dollars that pay for them.
Just to give some examples of what the New Year will hold, we will see the opening of a newly expanded kitchen and nutrition site at the Southern Ocean County Service Center in Manahawkin that will now serve as the centerpiece for our senior nutrition program. This service, under the leadership of Freeholder Vicari, provides 1,100 meals a day to seniors that are frail and often alone. More than just a meal, this is a lifeline to our seniors. It is our pledge that this program will continue to serve our most vulnerable citizens.
We also will be undertaking capital projects in the areas of transportation and social services.
A new headquarters for OceanRide currently is under construction in Manchester Township. The new facility will be state of the art and provide many upgrades to keep our buses on the roads and moving our citizens to and from important appointments and other day-to-day activities. I look forward to working with Freeholder Quinn as he takes the reins as board liaison to a department that provides more than 300,000 trips annually county wide.
I personally am privileged to now serve as chairperson of Parks and Recreation and open space. Freeholder Bartlett had served as a steward to our environment and I couldn’t be more proud to continue on with this vision to provide open space in Ocean County for generations to come. This year we will continue to preserve land and farmlands throughout the County. To date, we have acquired and approved almost 35,000 acres for preservation. And, I am happy that we will also be working on the new regional county park in Manchester Township.
Freeholder Little, among other areas, will continue his work with our Veterans Services Bureau in providing needed assistance to the men and women who with great courage and bravery served our country over the years. I am so proud that our County is home to the largest veteran population in the state. As we joined in listening to our National Anthem sung by Caitlyn Civitano earlier in this meeting I am honored to have been born and raised in a County that is steep in history and patriotism. We publicly honor those who served, whether it is in ceremonies that recognize the Centennial of World War I and all those veterans who served in the Great War to the support we give to those currently serving at home and abroad.
This Board is fiscally conservative. We keep an eye on the budget because we know it is funded by hard-earned wages of our taxpayers and they expect nothing less from us.
Our top priority is making certain the County Budget covers our core programs and services while keeping this County affordable for all of our residents. Together, in 2019, we will work with Freeholder Kelly, our new liaison to Finance, and our CFO Julie Tarrant and our Administrator Carl Block to develop a budget that makes certain we live within our means at the county just as you do at home.
We will maintain core services for veterans, seniors, working families and the needy. Our budget will improve county roads, bridges and facilities. Our budget will help fund our County College, and the Vo-Tech Schools. It will support the programs of our Prosecutor’s Office as we continue to help those suffering from addiction. Our budget will include an adequate surplus to keep Ocean County’s AAA bond rating.
Our budget will continue fiscal stability, and as we say every year, “there will be no surprises.”
For all of you who know me, you know I love Ocean County. There is no other place I would rather be. I was born and raised in Lakewood and have lived in Ocean County my entire life. I have been active in organizations and in my community in countless ways. I have been mentored by individuals like Joe Buckelew and George Gilmore – two men that have led the county’s Republican Organization with distinction and the late Freeholder Bartlett.
My parents instilled in me a strong sense of pride in my community and County. They imparted the importance of being involved whether it be simply helping a neighbor to being elected to office. Everyone in my family understands the sense of accomplishment you feel when you have truly helped.
I especially feel that sense of accomplishment today, as I am beyond proud to be the first woman in 40 years to lead this Board. As director, I pledge to never lose sight of our goals and commitments.
Having served on this Board since January of 2016 – and I know I am still the new kid but not as new as Gary – I cannot help but to see us all as that family that makes certain we help everyone as best we can.
From all my Freeholder colleagues on the Board to our constitutional officers – Surrogate Jeff Moran, County Clerk Scott Colabella, Sheriff Michael Mastronardy, to all of our department heads and to the rank and file employees – our secretaries, our groundskeepers, our road workers and the list goes on - who without their dedication and professionalism we would get little accomplished, we are family and together we make Ocean County the great place that it is to work, raise a family and retire.
Freeholder Bartlett said being a Freeholder was the best elected office you could hold because you could get things done. I truly believe that.
So as we begin 2019, let us work together as a family. Let us continue to serve the residents of Ocean County collectively in order to move Ocean County forward. Let us vow to take good care of each other. Let’s promise to help one another. In the words of our late President George H. W. Bush, let us be kinder and gentler. All of these actions are so simple and yet they make a world of difference.
May God Bless each of you here today, May God Bless Ocean County and May God Bless America.