ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. presented his 14th annual State of the County Address on Monday, Feb. 27, in the Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove. The multimedia presentation outlined county achievements and improvement projects completed in 2016, highlighted the services and programs offered by Essex County and announced plans for 2017.
This year’s address began with a short video that included time-lapse video of construction projects and an array of photographs from press conferences and programs, all set to music.
DiVincenzo began his address by promising to continue strengthening the county’s financial footing by obtaining a AAA bond rating, then went on to discuss county programs and progress.
DiVincenzo discussed the Essex County services and programs that assist residents. The Office of the Special Child helps children with developmental delays while the Division of Senior Services expanded its “Cafes in the Parks” to include a sixth location. Youth-related services were consolidated at one location in the Youth Resource Center, where young people can participate in education and employment-directed programs to help them return to school or join the workforce.
For youth offenders who end up at the Juvenile Detention Facility, a full school day and mentoring activities provide direction for when they are released.
DiVincenzo lauded the accomplishments of the Essex County Vocational Technical School District. Last year, the Bloomfield Tech Campus earned its second National Blue Ribbon Award and the Newark Tech Campus earned its first, giving the district four national awards in the last six years. Construction of the new Essex County Donald M. Payne School started in the spring of 2016, plans to open in 2018. Also announced were plans to expand and modernize the building at the West Caldwell Campus.
To assist residents in need, the Division of Welfare received a larger waiting room, information stations to streamline the application process, and the continued refinement of case banking; it was also renamed the “Division of Family Assistance and Benefits.”
Regarding public safety, the Essex County Correctional Facility earned ACA accreditation for the second time and an innovative re-entry program was started to prepare inmates for reintegration into society before their release. In addition, a new Sheriff’s Office Patrol Headquarters will be built.
The revitalization of the Essex County Parks System continued, with five playgrounds being modernized in 2016, and four more planned for 2017. Other notable upgrades completed last year were the football, track, softball and baseball fields in Weequahic Park; the basketball court, sidewalk and running track in Watsessing Park; and the community centers in Irvington Park and Vailsburg Park.
New exhibits and amenities completed at Turtle Back Zoo include the giraffe exhibit, the two-story Savanna Cafe, the Sea Turtle Recovery Center, enhanced public viewing areas and a covered walking trail. Scheduled to be completed this year are a lion and hyena exhibit, improved public viewing stations at the wolf, giant anteater and maned wolf exhibits; and new exhibits for birds.
Public works projects highlighted in the address included the $30 million of upgrades to the S-curves along South Orange Avenue and $6 million to modernize 14 intersections in Irvington; both projects were funded with federal grants. Projects under way include the rehabilitation of the Berkeley Avenue and Hoover Avenue bridges in Bloomfield, which are expected to reopen in the spring.
Several memorials were held to recognize individuals who have had an impact in the county. A plaque honoring World War II veteran and Hobbies Deli owner Samuel Brummer was placed in Essex County Veterans Memorial Park. Plaques honoring Baseball Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Larry Doby and Monte Irvin, Star-Ledger columnist emeritus Jerry Izenberg, former Surrogate Adrian Foley and Essex County’s first Youth Services Director John Clancy were placed along Legends Way next to the Hall of Records.
The Watsessing Park Walking Track was named in honor of 1952 Olympic Gold Medalist Horace Ashenfelter, of Glen Ridge. The Weequahic Park recreation complex was named for the late Rev. Ronald Christian; a Weequahic Park baseball field was named for the late Bill Hicks, a high school and Little League baseball coach in Newark; the Weequahic Park Community Center was named for Newark entrepreneur Feldmen “Mootsie” Middleton; the Weequahic Park Playground was named for activist Carl Sharif, and the Irvington Park Community Center was named for the late Freeholder and Irvington Councilman D. Bilal Beasely. In addition, a bronze Rescue Dog statue was dedicated at the Essex County Eagle Rock 9/11 Memorial to recognize the role canine responders had in the aftermath of the terror attacks, and a bronze statue of Monte Irvin was dedicated at Essex County Monte Irvin Orange Park.
“Now here we are, two months into our 15th year. … It has been a team effort with 3,500 employees, always recognizing that through it all our goal has always been the same: to follow a course that continues putting Essex County first,” DiVincenzo concluded.