Multi-Media Presentation Outlines Achievements and Improvements of 2018 and Outlook for Things to Come in 2019

Newark, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. presented his 16th annual State of the County Address on Monday, February 25th in the Essex County Donald M. Payne, Sr. School of Technology in Newark. The multi-media presentation outlined County achievements and improvement projects completed in 2018, highlighted the services and programs offered by Essex County and announced plans for 2019.

Before the County Executive delivered his address, a four-and-a-half minute video used the symbol of a butterfly to explain the transformation that has occurred throughout Essex County during the last 16 years. The video highlighted the development of the Payne School which has transformed Newark’s West Ward, the creation of the South Mountain Recreation Complex in West Orange and Riverfront Park in Newark as two sites that have metamorphized into recreation destinations, and the Café in the Park program for senior citizens and the educational programs at the Juvenile Detention Center as new services that have helped change lives.

“I take great pride in what we have accomplished in Essex County… Because of the work of our dedicated 3,500 employees, we can say Essex tells a different story,” DiVincenzo said. “We have connected families to critical resources, listened to our neighbors to reshape our priorities and mission and kept people working during the worst recession in modern times. Reform. Change. Transform. These are words that are not usually associated with government, but in Essex County, that’s what we are about,” he added.

The Executive said the County’s finances have never been stronger, pointing out that a Aaa bond rating was earned in 2018, the 2019 budget was introduced with a miniscule 0.5 percent tax increase and with conservative financial planning “by 2022, our debt at the Utilities Authority will be zero and we will have reduced our debt at the Improvement Authority by 70 percent. And in seven years, our annual debt service will drop from $116 million to just $41 million a year. That’s unprecedented,” DiVincenzo pointed out.

He also touted the Payne School, which opened in June, and announced that the West Caldwell School of Technology will undergo a comprehensive expansion and renovation starting in July.

Among the year’s social service accomplishments that were mentioned were a prisoner re-entry program in which less than one percent of the graduates are re-arrested, a new rapid re-housing program created by the County’s Comprehensive Emergency Assistance System to address homelessness and a 97 percent timeliness rating to process SNAP applications. DiVincenzo also announced plans to purchase an office building at 320-321 University Avenue in Newark to become the new headquarters for the Division of Family Assistance and Benefits and the construction of a new parking deck and county building for courts and Constitutional Offices at the Hall of Records Complex.

There were many projects to update basketball and tennis courts, playgrounds and park buildings that continued the revitalization of the Parks System. Planned for 2019 is the County’s first All Access Playground in Watsessing Park that will have equipment for children of all physical abilities and the construction of a dog park in Branch Brook Park, the county’s fifth. The Shores of Africa Exhibit featuring penguins and the Drill Family Flamingo Exhibit were new exhibits that opened at Turtle Back Zoo. “With a new entrance that will be completed next month and the construction of a 500-car parking deck, we will be able to handle large crowds more efficiently and enhance safety in the lot,” the Executive said. “In line with making our operations run more smoothly and seamlessly, we are building a new maintenance house to service our trains on site and reduce any downtime that a repair may cause,” he added.

DiVincenzo pointed out that Essex is involved in combatting the opioid crises. The County diverts eligible inmates into treatment programs, helps train law enforcement officers to properly use Narcan, a lifesaving drug that can stop the fatal effects of an overdose, and partners with ADAPT and local police departments to collect old and unwanted prescription drugs. Essex’s Municipal Alliance touch more than half a million residents from preschoolers to senior citizens, the Office of Alcohol and Addiction Services helped over 2,200 clients get into detox or outpatient programs and the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center has helped residents arrested for DUI offenses receive appropriate treatment and learn and understand the dangers of their actions.

“A cocoon is not the most beautiful of things. But with vision and nurturing can lead to some of the most amazing opportunities in time. Government can and should be that for people. Transformative. Innovative. Metamorphic. That’s who we are and how we are Putting Essex County First,” he said.

Before DiVincenzo spoke, U.S. Senator Cory Booker congratulated DiVincenzo in a video message. Also presenting well wishes were State Senator and Deputy Chief of Staff Teresa Ruiz, Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman LeRoy Jones and Essex County Freeholder President Brendan Gill. Pastor Joe Carter from New Hope Baptist Church in Newark gave the invocation. Payne School students Whitney Pierre, Racquel Petit-Frere, Brianna Gunter and Mia Perez sang the National Anthem.

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