By Freeholder Director Tom Arnone
Happy New Year Everyone. I am extremely pleased to have been selected as Freeholder Director for 2016. It is an honor once again to represent the board in this capacity. Last week at our annual county re-organization meeting I had an opportunity to briefly review my department’s accomplishments; ones that I believe have provided significant income to our county as well as savings to the taxpayers.
First I would like to thank my family for their support along the way as well as my, fellow Freeholders for their continued dedication to our county. In addition, I would like to wish all our Mayors best of luck as we begin the New Year.
2015 was a great year for me in terms of seeing projects through. As you know my greatest accomplishment in my political career thus far was finally seeing the Shark River dredging begin. This has been nearly 17 years in the making and I was so happy to see it finally begin! As many of you know, the dredging began the last week of December. Due to DEP restrictions, we are currently on a break until beginning of July. (so the fish can reproduce and continue to flourish!)
The Bike Route is in place. We appreciate the commitment by the boroughs of Fair Haven, Little Silver and Rumson to advance the bicycle routes by committing to the engineering design and funding on the County roads in their towns. If you drive down Rumson and Ridge roads you will notice the new lanes and signs that allow drivers to share the road with cyclists. This was great partnership between the municipalities and the county to ensure safety for all users. Thank you to Mayors Lucarelli, Neff and Ekdhal for their support in this effort.
As I said in the past, I truly believe that selling the care centers was the right thing to do – fiscally for the county, but also for the continued care and well-being of the residents and employees. The two care centers, combined, have lost more than $40 million since 2007. The residents should not be forced to live in facilities that need capital improvements, and it certainly was not fair to our employees who have took 0% increases over the last four years. We were very pleased with the outcome, as we received bids worth $32.4 million from two companies that purchased the facilities separately. Allaire Healthcare Group offered the high bid of $17.4M for John L. Montgomery. Preferred Care was the high bidder on Geraldine L. Thompson at $15M.
In 2016 I will continue to support a tax decrease to our residents and I am committed to vote down any tax increase that comes my way. We sustained the rising expenses of the nursing homes in our budget for many years, and now, with the unexpected high sale numbers we secured, I am proposing 1.5% decrease in taxes this year – this will result in about a $4 million decrease in taxes for our residents. This plan is obviously contingent on the support of my fellow Freeholders.
A critical function of County government is to provide a safe and efficient transportation system for its citizens and the general traveling public. To meet that objective, the County Engineer’s office continuously maintains and improves the County’s extensive transportation infrastructure which consists of over 1,000 lane miles of roads, 980 bridges and culverts, and 230 traffic signals. As the Board’s liaison to the Department of Public Works & Engineering and as a Board member to North Jersey Transportation Authority (NJTPA), and working closely with the Commissioner’s Office of the New Jersey Department of Transportation, I am pleased to report that in year 2015, Monmouth County was successful in securing approximately $34 Million in Grant funding towards County’s critical transportation infrastructure improvements. Every grant dollar the County secures means less direct County tax payer money or more transportation improvement projects for the County residents. I am working with our County Engineering staff to pursue every grant opportunity. In 2016 we will continue to secure increased funding to keep our county roads maintained exactly the way our Monmouth County residents have come to expect.
Securing federal and state transportation grants is imperative to advancing some of our largest planned capital improvement projects; such as the replacement of the movable bridge between Sea Bright and Rumson with an estimated construction cost of over $60 million as well as the replacement of the Oceanic Bridge between Rumson and Middletown with an estimated cost over $100 million. Both projects are in various phases of the Capital Project Delivery Program through NJTPA to insure that those projects will be eligible for federal funding. In 2016 we will continue our efforts to secure funding to keep our County roads maintained exactly the way our Monmouth County residents have grown accustomed to.
In calendar year 2015, approximately 11 individual transportation construction projects were awarded with an estimated value of $37 million. This is in addition to approximately 12 ongoing construction projects with an estimated contract value of $51 million. These construction projects include the West Front Street Bridge in Red Bank and Middletown, the Sunset Avenue Bridge in Asbury Park and Ocean Township, the Amboy Avenue Bridge in Keyport and Aberdeen, and County Route 40A, Memorial Drive corridor improvements in Asbury Park and Neptune.
Through our Shared Services, Monmouth County is continuing to assist the municipalities with sediment removal from lakes and ponds. In 2015, we undertook Phase III of our Wreck Pond pilot Sediment Removal Program at an estimated savings of over $600,000 in construction costs to Spring Lake and Sea Girt.
Economic Development is strong in our great County and I plan to continue my efforts in keeping our residents employed by putting people to work. The Top 10 Monmouth County employers reported employment totals of 25,474 for 2015 – this is an increase in employment of 2,490 jobs from 2014. And I’m going to insist that Monmouth County as an employer do more to higher within our borders. And to further that point I am suggesting that we lower the Project Labor Agreements (PLA) threshold from 5 million to 3 million, giving more work to our local unions. This initiative will put more Monmouth County union trades people to work and keep tax dollars in Monmouth County.
In addition, I will continue my efforts to keep existing businesses here and assist others to find the perfect place to re- locate in Monmouth County. Memorial Sloan Kettering is a perfect example, as the county worked with the Township of Middletown and the state to attract MSK to this Monmouth County location. This project will bring an estimated 260 new jobs to Monmouth County, and $200 Million investment by MSK with the redevelopment of the 40-Acre former Lucent property is well underway. In addition to bringing Memorial Sloan Kettering here, we were able to keep a large employer in Monmouth County, Comm Vault, by assisting them in securing a new larger space within the redevelopment of Fort Monmouth. The County has been working on infrastructure improvements to accommodate the project.
Our Grow Monmouth Initiative has grown significantly over the past year. Since becoming a Freeholder, I have conducted over 150 outreach meetings with the business community, municipal government, and business organizations. Through our Business Roundtable Series, the County coordinates meetings with municipal officials and their business community to discuss State, County and local business challenges. Action plans are developed and implemented to help retain and grow businesses. To date we have held over 20 meetings. In addition, through the Façade Improvement Program the county has awarded 56 grants totaling over $100,000 and I plan to increase the distribution of these funds in 2016. The County offers grants up to $1,850 to businesses in HUD qualified areas to improve the façade of their buildings.
The Made in Monmouth Expo is an annual event showcasing products exclusively produced in Monmouth County. Made in Monmouth is a free event for both vendors and visitors; its purpose is to encourage people to shop local. Last year the event was attended by over 3000 people and we are anticipating more in 2016. We are very excited to announce the 5th Annual Made in Monmouth, will be held on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at Monmouth University from 10AM to 4PM.
Grown in Monmouth is the newest addition to our economic development plan. The County just received a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to complete a SWOT analysis of our agriculture industry and develop a marketing plan to retain and grow this industry in our County.
I am pleased to announce we are approaching our sixth year of leading New Jersey in shared services. Monmouth County shared services program has been recognized by one of the most prestigious institutions in the public sector; as The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, recognized a Monmouth County Shared Service as part of the 2015 Bright Ideas Award program.
We have successfully built new partnerships with 53 municipalities and several counties throughout the state culminating in over 300 shared services agreements, millions in estimated savings to taxpayers and over $25 Million in new revenue, thus far since we started in 2010. In 2015 it is estimated that the county will have brought in over $5M ($5,045,341) through shared services
The tourism industry was hugely successful in 2015. The Monmouth County Public Information and Tourism department received over $20,000 in a Cooperative Marketing Grant from the NJ Office of Travel and Tourism to market Monmouth County as a premier tourism destination. We ran a successful radio, internet, and print marketing campaign highlighting all Monmouth County’s tourism assets and distributed over 6,800 packages of tourism information to prospective travelers. Monmouth County had a presence at events such as River Fest, Belmar Seafood Festival, Ocean Fest, Monmouth County Fair, Clean Communities Celebration in Long Branch and the Open Space Pace. Our comprehensive marketing campaign helped to achieve a 3.3% increase in visitor spending. Visitors to Monmouth County spent $2.3 billion on food, accommodations, recreation, entertainment, retail purchases, and transportation. In 2014 visitors to Monmouth County paid $282 million in state and local taxes, this was a $1.3 million increase over the previous year. The 2015 figures will be made available to us in March 2016 at the New Jersey State Tourism Conference. We are currently planning for another successful year for tourism in 2016.
You may not know, but as a freeholder I have the privilege to sit on several committees and boards. By far one of the most rewarding programs I am involved in is the Monmouth Ocean Foundation for Children. I share this honor with our Monmouth County Sheriff Shaun Golden. Both Sheriff Golden and I, along with staff at Monmouth-Ocean Educational Services, plan to support a program/facility for adults with autism. This group ages out of the current services available within our county at the age of 21 and these individuals with special needs and their families deserve a place to continue to thrive in a safe environment close to home. This facility would provide programming, services, therapies, and life skills training. Getting this program funded and operational is an initiative that I will be very involved with moving forward.
Thank you as always for your support and input. I look forward to serving you in 2016.