In his address, the Freeholder Director emphasized the
continued financial stability of the County, as evidenced in the recently
passed Fiscal Year 2019 Budget. As
Director Rios explained, “This budget reflects the Board’s stated goal of
drawing down County debt, which has been reduced by $237 million dollars since
2014. We’ve eliminated the use of
one-time revenue sources in favor of building sustainable, recurring revenue
streams, and our retained surplus has increased to over $74 million dollars.” As a result of this financial responsibility,
the County has continued to maintain, for an unprecedented 18th year, a Triple
A bond rating. This budget, a result of
the sound financial stewardship of the Board of Chosen Freeholders, provides a
sound footing for all the County’s programs and initiatives.
Director Rios shared the Freeholder Board’s continued
commitment to making ideas to advance the arts become reality across the
Coinciding with the opening of the New Brunswick Performing
Arts Center, the Board will be creating The Arts Institute of Middlesex
County. “This Institute will bring top
quality infrastructure and resources to the four resident organizations at the
new performing arts center – George Street Playhouse, the State Theatre, Crossroads
Theater, and the American Repertory Ballet – and drive collaboration with arts
organizations across our County” explained Director Rios. “By sharing and bundling services in areas
like marketing and programming, the Institute will enable all the County’s arts
organizations to focus on providing residents in every area of the County with
access to vibrant arts programming.”
The Freeholder Board has also continued to prioritize a
partnership approach to Healthcare.
Director Rios gave numerous examples of healthcare ideas and opportunities
becoming reality in 2019.
On April 9, the Middlesex County Improvement Authority
ratified Middlesex County’s agreement with RWJBarnabas Health to formalize the
partnership for the Roosevelt Care Centers.
Director Rios explained: “As this new partnership begins in earnest,
I’ve charged RWJBarnabas Health with evaluating our facilities and finding new
ways to bring innovative solutions and services to our residents.” This partnership will preserve and expand Middlesex
County’s commitment to the quality of care residents have been receiving at the
Roosevelt Care Centers, including an emphasis on more therapeutic activity.
Director Rios introduced two new initiatives to support our
Veterans. Rios noted that the Federal
Veteran’s Affairs system struggles to provide for the mental health and
wellbeing of our veterans. He announced,
“To address this critical service gap, my colleagues and I have asked the
Otlowski Center for Mental Health Care to create a program that specifically
addresses the mental health needs of our veterans. This program will provide psychiatric
evaluation, individual and group therapy, and other services tailored
specifically for our veterans.” Rios also
announced a new veteran’s housing initiative; “I’m proud to announce today that
over the next few years, Middlesex County will be committing half a million
dollars and partnering with housing developers with the goal of building
affordable housing for veterans in need, in keeping with our mission of
maintaining functional zero homelessness for veterans in Middlesex County.”
In keeping with the Board’s priority of providing
best-in-class services, Director Rios announced that Middlesex County will be
exploring partnership opportunities to continue to provide best-in-class
treatment at the Otlowski Center. He
explained, “We will seek to continue leveraging the healthcare assets of our
County, which includes major healthcare providers such as Hackensack Meridian
Health, RWJBarnabas Health, Penn Medicine, and St. Peter’s. As a Freeholder
Board, we are dedicated to making sure that our County residents have access to
the care and support they need, when they need it, to help deal with mental
health and substance abuse issues.”
Freeholder Director Rios expanded upon the Board’s intention
to establish a Department of Transportation.
“We will be realigning the county’s existing transportation resources,
and bringing in additional resources, to establish a Department of
Transportation,” announced Director Rios.
“The intent is to establish an aligned, accountable, and coordinated
transit system for residents, businesses, and visitors. This Department will work with local, state,
and federal agencies, and be equipped to lead the way to take innovative new
transportation ideas and make them a reality.”
The Freeholder Director also spoke about the need
continually to drive economic development through strategic planning.
Director Rios shared that he and his colleagues on the
Freeholder Board have tasked the Middlesex County Improvement Authority (MCIA)
with becoming the economic development engine for the County. “The MCIA will be focusing on linking and
coordinating economic growth, research and development, and technological
opportunity – their mission will be to make Middlesex County the place where
innovation becomes reality,” said Director Rios. “The MCIA is uniquely suited to this task, as
they can use their bonding and funding abilities to help invest in future
economic development projects that are aligned with our County priorities and
focus to make Middlesex County a leading destination for both businesses and
The Freeholder Board has also partnered with Dr. Carl Van
Horn and the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University to
undertake the Middlesex County Economic and Workforce Competitiveness Project.
This project will help Middlesex County assess its existing economic and
workforce development strengths and identify potential areas for improving
economic development and workforce opportunities for residents who are
unemployed or underemployed, as well as help the County to ensure it is
focusing on the right areas of workforce and talent development that businesses
need to successfully operate and grow in the County.
Finally, the Freeholder Director provided an update on the
Destination 2040 Master Plan effort.
Middlesex County is already out in the community with their partner, the
Public Outreach and Engagement Team, known as “POET”, from the Voorhees
Transportation Center at Rutgers University.
POET is working with the County to solicit feedback from residents,
businesses, and thought leaders.
Director Rios shared that the Destination 2040 plan will be assembled
from that feedback; “Our team will create a plan with specific and measurable
action items to be implemented beginning on Day 1. This will be a dynamic program, a vision and
a roadmap to guide the decisions and policies we implement today to prepare all
of us for tomorrow.”
Director Rios summarized; “What is hopefully clear to all of
us as we tell the Middlesex County story and show how that story comes alive
for our residents, businesses and visitors, is the fact that Middlesex County
is the place to work, play and raise a family …the County where ideas become
For the entire speech click here.