Providing core services to Ocean County’s 600,000 residents, maintaining affordability and stable county taxes and transparency in government were all goals met by the Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders in 2014, according to Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari.
In a recent review of the year that is coming to a close, Vicari noted the County faced many challenges in 2014 and worked to overcome obstacles.
“As I look back on 2014, I believe Ocean County as a whole can be very proud of its accomplishments,” Vicari said. “We always accept our challenges. We will never be complacent and we will continue to work to make things better for our citizens. We rely on long term planning.”
While a series of snowstorms and frigid temperatures ushered in 2014, Vicari said he knew the residents would be well served by Ocean County’s work force as they continued to keep roads safe, provide meals for seniors and carry out the services and programs of the Board of Freeholders.
“I truly appreciate the hard work and dedication of our professional staff and all county employees,” Vicari said. “They make a difference every day.”
Vicari said his focus in 2014 was to make sure core services were provided.
“It was important that we provide home delivered meals to seniors, maintain the County’s AAA bond rating, protect Barnegat Bay, support tourism efforts, strengthen relationships with Joint Base – McGuire, Dix, Lakehurst, and promote educational opportunities,” Vicari said.
In September, Ocean County was notified by bond rating houses that its bond rating reached the highest rating possible – AAA stable outlook – with the revision from a negative outlook in 2013 by Moody’s Investor Services.
“Amidst a number of substantial challenges including the continuing recovery from Superstorm Sandy and an economy that has yet to rebound from an earlier downturn, conservative fiscal planning on the part of the entire Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders resulted in the County receiving the highest bond rating possible,” Vicari said. “Maintaining this AAA bond rating speaks volumes about the experience of this Board of Freeholders and is a testament to the entire county government, each department working to make certain this county remains financially stable and able to withstand any emergencies that may come its way.”
Vicari noted that County residents are well served in all areas.
“Our seniors can access assistance from the Office of Senior Services. All citizens can access helpful information at our libraries and all of our consumers are protected by the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs,” Vicari said. “Our park system is second to none and our roads are well-maintained.”
Through November, Ocean County provided 164,750 home delivered meals to its seniors. In addition, it served 44,236 meals at its congregate nutrition sites.
“These meals are a lifeline for our elderly residents, many of whom live alone and have a difficult time making meals,” Vicari said “This program has a profound impact on the quality of life for our seniors here in Ocean County. More than 160,000 seniors call Ocean County home.”
Vicari noted that seniors and all residents can find learning and educational opportunities at any one of the county’s 21 library branches or reading rooms.
“We anticipate that more than 4.4 million books and materials will have been circulated by the end of 2014,” Vicari said.
The County also continues to closely work with Joint Base – McGuire, Dix, Lakehurst in order to provide support for the base and make stronger community ties.
“It’s important we maintain and grow strong relationships with the base and let our businesses know that the Joint Base is essential to our country’s security and our economy,” Vicari said.
Ocean County kicked off the summer of 2014 with the unveiling of a new pumpout boat bringing the number of six to service recreational boaters on Barnegat Bay and a new tourism website which was accessed by more than 67,000 visitors.
More than 6,200 boaters accessed Ocean County’s free pumpout boat service during the 2014 boating season, up about 200 from 2013, making certain more than 128,000 gallons of waste water was properly treated and disposed.
“This program is an important part of Ocean County’s continuing programs to protect Barnegat Bay,” Vicari said.
Vicari said tourism is a $4.2 billion industry in the County.
“We work to promote events and areas of interest so that people will come and vacation in Ocean County,” Vicari said. “Tourism provides about 70,000 jobs each year and it’s the backbone of our economy. We do all we can to help make each summer season the best possible.”
With an eye toward greater savings on energy costs, in October, Ocean County officials announced the completion of an energy audit through a program administered by the state Board of Public Utilities.
“We maintain about 135 buildings throughout Ocean County that house government services and programs,” said Vicari, who serves as liaison to the Ocean County Department of Buildings and Grounds. “We are always looking for ways to reduce our energy costs and this audit will provide a number of suggestions.”
He added a reorganization of the buildings and grounds department has resulted in substantial savings to the County.
“Ocean County continues to be the best place to live, raise a family work and retire,” Vicari said. “We are very proud of the quality of life we provide for our citizens.
“We have gone through much and we continue to rebuild from Superstorm Sandy and we know many people continue to struggle. But we are resilient,” Vicari said. “We work as advocates for all citizens. We help wherever possible to make a positive difference.”