I want to wish everyone here today a happy and healthy New Year and a warm welcome to the 2020 Organization Meeting of the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
First, I would like to thank my fellow Freeholders for naming me director for 2020. I would also like to thank Ginny Haines for her outstanding leadership as director of the board in 2019. Never an easy task, but she did a great job handling the challenges that come with the position.
And I also want to congratulate Freeholder Haines and Freeholder Kelly on their re-election victories and their new terms on the board. Both bring a wealth of experience to the Board and it is a pleasure to serve with them.
I want to acknowledge Freeholder Quinn for being named Deputy Director for 2020 and also I want to recognize my good friend Freeholder Little.
I look forward to working with all of you as we set forth in making certain this new decade continues to provide the excellent quality of life are residents have come to expect.
Congratulations also goes to Sheriff Mike Mastronardy, who was sworn in to a new term as Sheriff. His leadership as sheriff has been second to none and his efforts in protecting our residents has not gone unnoticed.
Also with us today are our County Clerk Scott Colabella and Surrogate Jeff Moran. You will not find a harder working county clerk or surrogate in the entire state of New Jersey. It’s a pleasure to work with such innovative and dedicated Constitutional Officers.
As we look ahead to 2020, I can once again promise our residents that there will be no surprises when we soon announce the county budget.
Under the financial direction of Freeholder Jack Kelly 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. Look to Trenton and you won’t find a AAA bond rating. Look to Washington and you won’t find it there either. 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.
Of course, when we talk about services we must talk about our seniors. Ocean County is home to more than 173,000 senior citizens and this board will continue to see that our older adults are well cared for. From meals on wheels to the latest health screenings, our Office of Senior Services will continue to be a beacon of support for both seniors and their caregivers.
As the advocate for our senior population, I will fight for restored funding for essential programs that serve as key assistance to our elderly, especially those who are frail and vulnerable. I am glad our senior Congressman Chris Smith is joining us today along with Congressman Andy Kim. In the New Year, I will work with our federal representatives to get the cost of living formula for Social Security benefits changed so any increase better reflects the current economic times. No senior should have to decide between paying their rent and paying for their prescriptions. That is just not acceptable. And many of our seniors rely solely on social security. That $1,400 a month does not cover the day to day expenses of our seniors.
Ocean County also is home to the largest veteran population in the state. With 40,000 veterans living here it is essential that we provide them with quality programs and services. I am sure we all look forward to the siting and construction of a new veterans clinic here in Ocean County.
In 2020, I want to stress the many opportunities that are right here in Ocean County for all of our residents no matter their age.
It is with great pride that I will be attending the first day of classes at the new Vo-Tech Performing Arts Academy on January 6. The new academy built on the Ocean County College campus will provide state of the art education in every aspect of performing arts from dance and theater to the technology involved in it.
This academy is the result of a partnership with this Board of Freeholders, along with the Vo-Tech school, the college and the Grunin Foundation working together to provide the very best for our children.
The new performing arts academy along with all of our vo-tech programs and Ocean County College create great opportunities including education for the jobs of the future for students now and years to come.
Opportunity can also be found at the Ocean County library – the largest public library system in the state. At our facilities, there are numerous programs that teach skills and technology.
Being provided a chance at success is one of the many reasons why people move to Ocean County.
I look forward to continuing my work with our tourism industry in promoting Ocean County as a great place to vacation. This almost $4.8 billion industry is an economic engine that provides employment opportunity and helps stabilize property taxes. Again, tourism provides opportunities in Ocean County that visitors and residents can take advantage of. Tourism is vitally important to our small businesses that are the fabric of our local economy.
We will also continue our work in protecting the Joint Base from any attempt to lessen this installation’s vital role in the defense of our nation.
The Census count will take place in 2020. We have been working for several months now to get the word out on this very important process. April 1 will be Census Day nationally and at that time we all need to be counted. An undercount in Ocean County means less federal funding and the possible loss of a congressional seat. We need to do all we can to make certain our numbers are accurate.
This Board has faced and continues to face many challenges.
One of the greatest tests we have been up against has been the opioid addiction crises.
While Ocean County is not alone in this daily struggle, we are working hard to stem the tide of drug overdoses that occur daily in the County. From our law enforcement agencies headed up by our Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer and Sheriff Mastronardy to our government departments including Human Services and the Health Department, programs and services are in place to help those suffering from addiction. I know and we all know more needs to be done and we are working to provide as much assistance as we possibly can.
I also want to extend my appreciation to our Sheriff, Prosecutor and all of our law enforcement agencies as they work to keep Ocean County safe. We are living in a time where violence seems too often to take the place of understanding. And instead of learning about our differences and working through them, some will hold onto the hatred that clouds their actions. It is during these times that we rely most on our law enforcement to keep us all from harms way.
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 truly are a family here in county government and it is a pleasure to work with these outstanding individuals day in and day out.
Every New Year is a new beginning and 2020 is no different. It comes with great promise and great challenges that we will meet and work through. I wish everyone here a happy and safe New Year and I look forward to working with, and for, all of you in 2020.