With a number of key initiatives about to take place within his freeholder district, Anthony Vainieri of North Bergen was elected the new chairman of the Hudson County Board of Freeholders during their reorganization meeting on Jan. 5.
The board also discussed possibly creating a police academy within the county, and making Kennedy Boulevard safer.
The nine-member Board of Freeholders is like the county’s version of a town council, voting on issues related to policy and budgets for the county personnel, facilities, roads, and parks.
Vainieri is taking the reins of the board at a time when the county is constructing a new countywide High Tech High School campus in Secaucus, and moving from the Tonnelle Avenue location which will become the new campus for North Bergen High School.
He said the new High Tech High School in Secaucus is expected to open this coming September and will serve as a center for STEM education.
Vainieri said North Bergen will pay for the old site over time and these payments, possibly as much as $1 million a year, will help offset the cost of the new high tech. This allows North Bergen to shift uses of existing schools, creating a junior high school at the current high school on Kennedy Boulevard, and take grades seven and eight out of the elementary schools. Kindergarten class will be brought back into these elementary schools.
In terms of parks, officials said the county will be investing more in county parks, including continuing reconstruction of the lake wall and pathway in Braddock Park. The county is working to erect a statue of boxer and North Bergen native James Braddock shortly.
A safer JFK Boulevard
In light of pedestrian fatalities and other accidents, Vainieri said the county will continue a new safety program for the entire length of Kennedy Boulevard. This will include new traffic light sequencing that will stop traffic at intervals, forcing traffic to slow down.
“If you stop at a red light, it’ll take time for a car to speed up by which time, it will have to stop for another light a few blocks up,” he said. “We can’t force people to stop speeding but we can keep them from getting up to speed.”
This sequencing would likely occur during overnight hours when there are many more speeders along the boulevard, he said.
Using state grant money, the county will also repaint crossing lines and set up buffers along critical areas such as curves and near schools.
Hudson’s own police academy
Vainieri and Hoboken/Jersey City Freeholder Anthony Romano are working on establishing a Hudson County police academy.
“This was an issue I ran on in 2014,” Vainieri said. “People said I was crazy. But we’re close to getting it done.”
Municipal and county police officers are currently forced to seek spots in other academies throughout the state, often at high cost. Jersey City public safety officials say they often have to wait for slots to open and they can be bumped if more local police need those slots.
Vainieri said he has spoken with the county executive’s office and Romano about developing a Hudson County academy that would not only train local officers, but also serve as a revenue source for training officers from elsewhere in the state.
The county intends to use the former juvenile detention facility in Secaucus, which became vacant last year when the county contracted to send juvenile offenders to a site in Essex county.
A number of police officers in Hudson County are certified to work as instructors, and Oscar Aviles, former director of the Hudson Correctional Facility in Kearny, has the necessary certifications to run the facility. Aviles currently serves as deputy county administrator.
Vainieri said he will meet with members of the Police Chiefs Association and will be part of a Committee to develop the academy.
Reorganization meeting elected new officers
While the freeholders elected Vainieri, who represents all of North Bergen, as their new chairperson, the board also named Freeholder William O’Dea who represents a part of Jersey City as vice-chair. Freeholder Caridad Rodriguez, who represents West New York, Weehawken, and Guttenberg was elected chairperson pro-temp.
Freeholder E. Junior Maldonado who represents a northern portion of Jersey City was designated as voting member for the Board of Freeholders to attend all meetings and conferences of the New Jersey Association of Counties for the year 2017. Freeholder Gerard Balmir, who represents southern portions of Jersey City, was designated as alternate voting member.
The committees and their chairs
Vainieri made assignments to Committees and liaison designations for 2017. Vainieri will be a member of the Hudson County School of Technology Committee, chair of the Finance Budget and Administration Committee, chair of the Transportation Committee, member of the Contracts Committee, member of the County Banking Committee, Member of the Economic Development and Housing Committee, member of the Public Resources Committee, and member of the Public Safety Committee.
Junior Maldonado will be representative to the Hudson County Improvement Authority, chair of the Personnel Committee, chair of the Tourism Committee, member of the Family Services Committee, member of the Finance Budget and Administration Committee, member of the Purchasing Committee, and member of the Task Force on the Homeless.
Balmir will be join the Hudson County Open Space Advisory Board, chair the Family Services Committee and the Purchasing Committee, and become a member of Economic Development and Housing Committee, Public Safety Committee, Education Committee, and a member of the Tourism Committee and Woman and Minority Affairs Committee.
O’Dea will be a member of the Hudson County School of Technology and the Hudson County Board of School Estimate, become the Hudson County Community College Trustee, Liaison to the Work Force Investment Board, the chair of the County Banking Committee, chair of the Public Resources Committee, member of the Contracts Committee, member of the Environment Health and Human Services Committee, member of the Task Force on Homeless, and member of the Public Safety Committee.
“We have a good relationship with the county executive,” O’Dea said. “Over the last few years we have accomplished a lot with him.”
Freeholder Tilo Rivas will chair the County Government Oversight and Policy Review Committee, and become a member of the Personnel Committee, Transportation Committee, Education Committee, and Woman and Minority Affairs Committee.
Freeholder Albert Cifelli will be a member of the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategies, alternate member to the Hudson County Improvement Authority, chair of the Contracts Committee and the Ethics Committee, member of the Environment Health and Human Services Committee, member of the Personnel Committee, member of Environment, Health and Human Services Committee, and member of the County Government Oversight and Policy Review Committee.
Anthony Romano will be alternate to the Work Force Investment Board, member of the Planning Board, member of the Hudson County Community College Board of School Estimate, trustee of Hudson County Community College, chair of the Public Safety Committee, chair of the Senior Citizens Committee, chair of Economic, Development and Housing Committee, member of the Finance Committee, member of the Personnel Committee and member of the Education Committee.
“I would like to see sports restored to our county schools,” Romano said, hoping to make that a priority with the construction of the new school in Secaucus.
Freeholder Caridad Rodriguez will serve as chair of the Homeless Task Force Committee and the Environment, Health and Human Services Committee, and become a member of the Woman and Minority Affairs Committee, the Purchasing Committee, the Tourism Committee, the Senior Citizens Committee, the Family Services Committee.
Freeholder Kenneth Kopacz will serve as chair of the Education Committee, and a member of the Insurance Commission, the Planning Committee, the County Government Oversight and Policy Review Committee, the Ethics Committee, the Public Resources Committee, and the Senior Citizens Committee.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.