Freeholder director sets stage for Middlesex County in 2018

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Middlesex County Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios predicted 2018 will be “an amazing year” during his Director’s Message given at the 2018 reorganization meeting of the Board of Chosen Freeholders.

“We have much to look forward to and we have much to build on. And we have an amazing story to tell and show about the richness, depth and opportunities of this place that most of us here in this room call home,” he told the hundreds of people, including Governor-Elect Phil Murphy, Assembly Speaker-Designate Craig Coughlin, and U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone and Bonnie Watson Coleman, who attended the annual meeting held Jan. 3 at Middlesex County College in Edison, according to a statement prepared by the county.

Rios highlighted innovation, culture, collaboration and opportunity as words that define Middlesex County.

In terms of innovation, he mentioned welcoming the first tenants of the Residence at Roosevelt Park in Edison.

“Middlesex County created an innovative public-private partnership to build and manage this restored facility. From a tuberculosis hospital to a long-term care center, the Residence at Roosevelt Park now offers affordable, independent living for seniors,” Rios said. “This innovative, restored facility is part of our continuing commitment to responding to the changing needs of our population by meeting their continuum of care needs, as well as ending homelessness, and helping our veterans. In fact, five units are set aside for homeless individuals, and veterans will have preference for up to 25 percent of the units. The Residence at Roosevelt Park is an example of how we are thinking and providing services in new ways … an example of bringing innovation to a key service we can now provide.”

Another example of innovation is the county’s Open Data Portal, Rios said.

“The portal allows residents, businesses and visitors access to a wide variety of key information about the county. If you are interested in learning where the county walking paths or the transit routes and stations in the county are … if you want to know where the Urban Enterprise Zones or the industrial parks are … the Middlesex County Open Data Portal has all this information and more,” he said.

Rios mentioned the Middlesex County Services Locator allowing anyone to search for information about job training, health services, counseling, childcare, adult care or housing online.

In terms of culture, Rios referenced starting to plan for the complete renovation of the Plays-In-The-Park facility and surrounding grounds, as well as investing in the Performing Arts Center in New Brunswick which will be the home of the new Middlesex County Institute of the Arts, in addition to expanding open space acreage.

Rios cited collaboration in terms of developing the Centralized Property Tax Map Administration Program, providing updated, digital tax maps for each municipality.

“And I’m very excited about the launch of a new, comprehensive countywide master planning process that will define where the county wants to be over the next 20 years. We will be using a strategic planning approach that will define our goals for every aspect of Middlesex County including housing, economic development, jobs, transportation, energy, technology, arts and history, community health, public safety and recreation. To build this plan, we will be working with … collaborating with and across … every county department, municipality and all of our partners,” he said in the statement.

For opportunity, Rios said municipalities were introduced to FEMA’s Community Rating System Program that helps them develop floodplain plans that will allow residents and businesses who participate to have an opportunity to see up to a 15 percent reduction in their flood insurance premiums, according to the statement.

The county will also participate in the U.S. Census Bureau’s Local Update of Census Addresses to conduct an accurate population survey across the county.

“This is critically important as an accurate population survey determines how billions of grant dollars are allocated, how Congressional districts are drawn, and helps the county and municipalities plan better and smarter,” Rios said in the statement. “The county will take a lead role in helping our community partners participate in this critically important initiative by using our map-based GIS technology at no cost to them.”

Also as part of the ceremony, Freeholders Leslie Koppel, Shanti Narra and Charles E. Tomaro were sworn in to their seats. Surrogate Kevin J. Hoagland was sworn in for his sixth term. Rios was once again sworn in as director of the board, and Tomaro was sworn in as deputy director.

“[W]e are very proud that we get the privilege to serve the people of our county and that we have the capabilities to deliver and grow our key services,” Rios said in the statement.