Before a crowd of more than 300 people Tuesday night, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. heralded Essex County’s most significant accomplishments in his 10th annual State of the County address at the Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove.
The audience, which included Gov. Chris Christie, state Sen. President Stephen Sweeney and state Assembly Speaker Sheila Y. Oliver, listened intently as DiVincenzo checked off a litany of accomplishments, including spending cuts, revenue increases, controlling taxes and providing services.
“At a time when all levels of government have raided their surpluses, we have been able to grow our rainy day fund,” said DiVincenzo, praising the county’s ability to prevent layoffs and improve its credit bond rating.
The Essex County Airport created nearly 1,800 jobs in 2012, he said, and added more than $93 million to the economy. The county was also able to create 105 temporary jobs to assist 11 municipalities with recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy.
“This is where I grew up, born in Newark and spent the rest of my years through high school in Livingston. Essex County is home for me,” said Christie, who praised county officials for putting aside politics to help residents after the storm. “Working together with the county executive, we will make sure the people of this county will be better and stronger and better prepared than they were before the storm.”
Since taking office in 2003, DiVincenzo said the county has improved the fiscal blueprint and dramatically strengthened and renewed the county landscapes by making more than $40 million worth of capital improvements to county parks and roadways in 2012.
He highlighted projects like new flower beds and enhanced lighting and safety in Weequahic Park in Newark, repairing and creating trails at South Mountain Reservation in South Orange and recently signing a long-term lease with the Township of Orange to open more property in South Mountain Reservation to the public.
“This dream held for over 30 years was made a reality through the combined will and cooperation of government and residents,” said DiVincenzo. “Soon there will be people paddle boating, walking, fishing or just taking a break at the newly constructed pavilion and floating dock.”
DiVincenzo also highlighted the opportunity to partner with Verona native and Miami Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano to rebuild the bocce courts in Verona Park for a charity tournament.
“Park goers will also appreciate both the safety and style of the reconstructed boathouse deck and 100 new lights, for greater safety, along the walking paths."
The Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange, a favorite location of DiVincenzo's, saw more than 560,000 visitors in 2012, the third consecutive year the zoo exceeded half a million people, he said.
“The Turtle Back Zoo continues to be a premiere attraction and reached a new revenue milestone of $4.3 million from the zoo, mini-golf, Treetop Adventure and McLoone's lease,” said DiVincenzo.
He also touted improvements at the Essex County Environmental Center, upgrading the network of roads, bringing in $47 million worth of revenue from the department of corrections, $13.6 million from the Essex County Hospital Center and $3.7 million from golf courses.
“Our revenue streams have remained strong,” he said. “They generate critical funding for the county budget, but also highlight the fact that when agencies and local levels of government are looking to partner in a shared service agreement or contract for service, they have selected Essex County.”
DiVincenzo also stressed an ambitious 2013 county laundry list of projects for 2013, including:
- An addition to the Newark Tech campus.
- An education center and sea lion exhibit at Turtle Back Zoo.
- A new public works headquarters.
- Continued upgrades to Clifton Avenue and Branch Brook Park in Newark.
- Accessibility upgrades to the parking lot at Grover Cleveland Park in Caldwell, Essex Fells.
- Revitalization project at Hilltop Reservation in Cedar Grove, Verona, Caldwell and North Caldwell.
- Roof and window replacement at Kip's Castle in Verona.