Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. presented his 11th annual State of the County Address on Monday, Feb. 24th in the Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove.
The multi-media presentation outlined county achievements and improvement projects completed in 2013, highlighted the services and programs offered by Essex County and announced plans for 2014.
“What we have been building in the last decade has been carried out by a committed administration and a dedicated workforce of 3,500 employees. Our mission of Putting Essex County First has spread beyond the borders of our 22 municipalities and gained us state recognition. But, more importantly, the efforts of our team have put us on the national map for quality and excellence,” DiVincenzo said.
The theme of the County Executive’s remarks was the national recognition received by almost every department and division in Essex County government.
These included the county bond rating being upgraded to AA Stable by Fitch Ratings, which attributed the uptick to the county’s conservative budgeting, long-term planning, developing new recurring revenue sources and minimally raising taxes; the Correctional Facility earning accreditation from the American Correctional Association; the Juvenile Detention Facility being named Facility of the Year by the National Commission on Correctional Healthcare; each of the four schools in the Vocational Technical School District receiving Bronze Awards from US News and World Report; the Division of Senior Services Café in the Park program receiving the Aging Achievement Award from the National Association of Area Agencies on; Branch Brook Park being named one of the 10 Great Public Spaces by the American Planning Association; Turtle Back Zoo earning a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor.com; and the Hospital Center receiving accreditation from the Joint Commission.
Among the innovative programs initiated in 2013 were an alternative to incarceration opportunity that allowed at-risk youth to participate in a work readiness program and paid internship, the development of the Technology Enhanced Active Learning Center at Newark Tech where students learn in a technology-rich environment, a job fair that resulted in 200 people gaining permanent employment and the expansion of the Department of Citizen Services offices to improve service for clients.
Among the infrastructure projects undertaken throughout the Parks System and network of county roads were improvements to the lighting and entranceway on Clifton Avenue and restoration of Concourse Hill in Branch Brook Park; trees planted, new lighting and renovations to the handball courts in Weequahic Park; decorative lighting in Brookdale Park; new synthetic grass surfaces on the soccer fields in Independence and Riverbank Parks; walking path rehabilitation in Eagle Rock Reservation; irrigation system in Anderson Park; restroom facilities in Verona Park; the development of the Sea Lion Sound, Prehistoric Playground and Treetop Adventure in Turtle Back Zoo; paddle boating at the Orange Reservoir.
“So here we are. A new year. New goals. With a renewed commitment to quality service, energized and ready to keep putting Essex County first,” DiVincenzo said.
Among the projects and programs planned for 2014 are a new Public Works building, Education Center at Turtle Back Zoo, a new Café in the Park and master plan to improve recreation facilities in Weequahic Park, club house renovations in Belleville Park, a new synthetic grass surface, rubberized track and fitness course in Brookdale Park, lighting and a fitness course in Ivy Hill Park, the development of synthetic grass surface baseball and softball fields in Watsessing Park and interior renovations at Kip’s Castle. In addition, renovated basketball courts and a new two-mile walking path in Branch Brook Park, the completion of a two-mile walking path around the Orange Reservoir, creation of a dog park and playground at the South Mountain Recreation Complex and the start of a two-year, $30 million federally funded project to improve safety and drainage on South Orange Avenue between Brookside and Harding drives are scheduled.
“Our infrastructure projects help improve the quality of life for Essex County’s residents and spur economic development through the creation of jobs,” the Executive said. “Another dimension of our employment and training focus will be to reassess our strategic plan for job training so our programs meet the needs of today’s market place. In a few weeks, we will set out to work with faith-based and community organizations to ensure that our residents are aware of the opportunities that Essex has to improve their employability."
“We all know that Essex County is a special place and that motivates us to bridge the gaps for families in need, foster educational opportunities, maintain our long-term fiscal planning and create a thriving environment for future generations,” DiVincenzo said. “The country has had opportunities to witness some of our outstanding accomplishments, but we here have always had a bird’s eye view of the diversity of our neighborhoods, our town’s strengths and our County’s beauty. It is the reason we keep Putting Essex County First.”
Essex County officials speaking as part of the program commended the County Executive on his administration’s achievements and expressed their confidence in his continued leadership.
“I have had a growing relationship with great respect and admiration for Joe, who is someone who gets things done,” Congressman Donald Payne, Jr. said. “The things accomplished here, bar none, set us apart from any other county,” he pointed out.
“Joe is a hands-on executive and there has never been a county executive before him who has been ‘on it’ for as long and as hard as he,” Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver said. “Joe is very sensitive to the issues that affect everyone."
Submitted by the office of the Essex County Executive