Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes has announced plans to seek a fifth term to the county’s top administrative post, which he has held since 2004.
Hughes, who is a Democrat, made his announcement during the annual State of the County address that was delivered at the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders’ Jan. 24 meeting at the McDade Administration Building in Trenton.
“We have much to celebrate in that Mercer County is healthy, strong and battled-tested. We have accomplished so much, but this is no time to rest on our laurels. There is still so much work to be done,” Hughes said as he announced his intention to seek another four-year term.
Hughes reeled off a list of accomplishments since taking office, but he also pointed to some unfinished business – modernizing the Trenton-Mercer airport and deciding the fate of the Mercer County Correction Center – that he would like to resolve in his next term.
Among his accomplishments are the new Mercer County Superior Court criminal courthouse and the preservation of the historic Petty’s Run – the site of an early steel furnace and later paper and cotton mills – in the City of Trenton.
Hughes also noted that the Jacobs Creek bridge in Hopewell Township was reconstructed. The bridge’s iron truss, which dates to 1882, was removed and preserved, and later incorporated into the Valley Road bridge rehabilitation project near the Howell Living Farm.
Recreational facilities in the Mercer County-maintained parks have been expanded and upgraded, and programs have been put into place to provide more affordable programs for under-served populations, he said.
The Mercer County Park Commission offers more diverse programming, which has drawn more users to the Equestrian Center and the Nature Center, as well as more concerts and other events, he said.
Struggling to solve the vexing problem of homelessness, Hughes said the Mercer County Board of Social Services has worked with the City of Trenton, the Rescue Mission and other groups to find homes for the homeless. In the past three years, 400 families and 600 single individuals have found housing, he said.
While his administration has accomplished much, there is even more that he wants to achieve, Hughes said.
On the list of “unfinished business” is the replacement of the Trenton-Mercer Airport’s passenger terminal with a modern one that can handle current passenger use and also support future passenger growth, Hughes said. The need for airport upgrades has been triggered by the success of Frontier Airlines, which offers flights from the airport.
Public hearings have been held on the airport expansion, and more will be scheduled as Mercer County works its way through the project’s design phase and the environmental assessment process as governed by the Federal Aviation Administration, he said.
“As planned, we will conduct a public hearing in early summer on the full environmental assessment. Modernization of our airport terminal continues to be the topic I am asked about most, and I am eager to advance this project,” Hughes said.
Noting that the Mercer County Correction Center places a financial strain on taxpayers because of the need for “heavy maintenance” to an outdated facility, Hughes suggested regionalizing the service with another county – reducing the Mercer County budget by at least $12 million annually.
Because of the 2017 Criminal Justice Reform Act, there are fewer people housed in the county jail, Hughes said. Gloucester and Cumberland counties have regionalized their county jails, saving money for both counties. Hunterdon County, which is next to Mercer County, closed its jail and houses its inmates in the Monmouth County jail.
“As more counties look for ways to share correctional services, our need for a solution that makes more sense grows more urgent. We began considering the future of our correctional facility six years ago, and we must draw a conclusion this year,” Hughes said.
The Mercer County Executive said he also wants to continue to combat the stigma of mental illness and addiction. Mercer County has embarked on a year-long campaign to raise awareness of those issues, but it continues to be a difficult topic, he said.
“Until we eliminate stigma and discrimination within our community and create an environment for hope and healing, we must continue this effort,” Hughes said.