Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise formally addressed the Board of Commissioners for the 19th time on May 24 on the 2022 State of the County during a caucus meeting. But this year he did so a little more informally.
After a two-year hiatus from addressing the board due to COVID-19, DeGise spoke before the commissioners via Zoom link from his office, employing notes rather than a set text. Sporting his favorite NY Mets necktie, and striking a conversational tone, DeGise thanked the board for their cooperation during the pandemic response and touted a range of projects and issues that his administration had make significant progress on since his last address, in March of 2019.
County’s COVID-19 response
At the top of his list, DeGise highlighted the county’s response to the pandemic. According to DeGise, Hudson County has the highest percentage of residents vaccinated overall in the state. And the county also has the highest under-18 vaccination rate.
DeGise touted the county’s Vaccination Distribution Center at the U.S.S. Juneau Center in Kearny, as well as the drive-thru COVID-19 testing it provided with one main site being at Hudson Regional Hospital in Secaucus. He said that overall, the county has administered more than 70,000 vaccine doses at the center in Kearny. Hudson County operated 145 mobile vaccine sites where more than 7,000 vaccinations were administered. According to DeGise, a total of 23,000 PCR tests were administered, as well as 3,000 antibody tests.
Hudson County set up a COVID-19 Isolation Step Down Unit across from Christ Hospital in Jersey City, in partnership with Alliance Community Health. The unit allowed hospitals to refer positive COVID-19 patients who could not isolate properly rather than simply return to the streets.
Additionally, DeGise noted that Hudson County provided rental assistance for nearly 3,000 residents impacted by COVID-19 and approved $19 million in rental assistance funding. The Hudson County Department of Housing and Community Reintegration partnered with the State to provide nearly 800 homeless cases dealing with COVID-19 with shelter and care during the pandemic.
The Hudson County Department of Health and Human Services (DHS) took on the challenge of addressing food insecurity during the pandemic. First, free food distribution events were held in Weehawken and Kearny that each provided fresh and shelf-stable food for 2,000 households.
DHS continued to expand their efforts into 2021, providing over 150,000 households with fresh and shelf stable food through distributions conducted at the Juneau Center. Since then, via executive order, the county created a Food Insecurity Task Force that surveyed more than 10,000 residents and is using the data from the survey to develop a strategic plan focused on increasing food pantries in under-served areas.
Ongoing and recently completed projects
DeGise also highlighted a number of redevelopment projects currently under construction or that were completed in the time since the last State of the County in 2019.
To date, a third of all construction is complete at the new 406,000 square foot Frank J. Guarini Justice Complex in Jersey City. DeGise said construction is on schedule for completion in late 2024. Meanwhile, the parking garage structure is fully assembled and could be accepting cars as soon as this fall.
According to DeGise, over 1,100 tons of structural steel has been erected to date, approximately 20 percent total. More than 18,000 cubic yards of concrete poured to date at the under-construction complex, which is akin to approximately 1,800 concrete truck loads. And 20 percent of the skilled labor on the project have been Hudson County residents.
Over at the Historic William J. Brennan Courthouse, the County has completed renovations of the first and third floors, adding nearly 8,000 square feet for two new civil courtrooms. Outside of those projects, DeGise underscored the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office’s new facilities in Secaucus. A new evidence storage facility, consisting of 21,000 square feet, was completed in 2021, and new Hudson County Prosecutor offices and new detention centers totaling 78,000 square feet, were completed in February of this year.
The new facilities are equipped with: a new forensic lab; a Child Advocacy Center approximately 2,600 square feet; two 2,200 square foot detention centers each with two interview rooms and three holding cells; and seven additional interview rooms. A DNA Lab is currently under construction, according to DeGise. With the new facilities also comes new technology, including: case cracker interview equipment, card access, wi-fi, smart TV’s, a PA system, and video surveillance throughout.
“The View at Lincoln Park” and Public Safety Training Center
DeGise also touted the planned “The View at Lincoln Park” in Jersey City. Known as the “Casino in the Park,” it was outdated and in “deplorable” condition. Hudson County, through the Hudson County Improvement Authority, entered into an agreement with Landmark Hospitality to operate the facility. Construction may began in May of 2021, DeGise said, with an anticipated completion date in October of 2022.
“The View at Lincoln Park” will have a unique design, with timber frame construction of two banquet rooms. They will have a total occupancy of 350 guests. There will be a rooftop restaurant with seating for 75, DeGise said. An additional 75 seats will be available in an open-air terrace. There will also be an outdoor patio with a kiosk to serve park-goers.
While there has been a lot of development on Jersey City’s West Side, there has been a lack of restaurants or banquet facilities in the area, according to DeGise. This aims to remedy that issue, and offers a view of the lake, as well as an easy place to stop and eat after playing a round at the Skyway Golf Course.
Another major project DeGise was proud of was the opening of the Hudson County Public Safety Training Center in Secaucus. The Center has run three Basic Courses for Police Officers, with one currently in progress. So far, the Center has graduated 72 Police Officers, and anticipates adding another 38 this June. That takes the total number of officers graduated to 110 in year one of operation. The savings for the Sheriff’s Department and the municipal agencies located within the county is roughly $219,000 based on a $1,500 per trainee projected cost for out of County training.
According to DeGise, the Jersey City Police Department has made up the bulk of the Training Center’s recruits, with 29 of the 37 current recruits in this class from the JCPD. The Center has also provided in-service training classes to a total of 85 already on duty officers in a variety of subjects and skills. On June 24, the first basic course for county corrections officers begins at the Center with 66 trainees, DeGise said. Their training will run through early September.
The new Public Safety Training Center has allowed for the implementation of an alternative training and hiring program for corrections officers so that the county can fill open vacancies more quickly, and aims to ensure a diverse work staff that is reflective of the Hudson County community.
Commissioners proud of County accomplishments
After discussing the points above, the County Executive and the board exchanged compliments regarding the progress made. Chairman Anthony Vainieri lauded the COVID response.
Commissioner Bill O’Dea, who represents the neighborhood around Lincoln Park in Jersey City, cheered DeGise’s willingness to replace the crumbling Casino in the Park in Lincoln Park.
Both the County Executive and board members touted the administration’s professional staff, who’s work during the pandemic helped keep residents safe while simultaneously pushing forward with some of the aforementioned projects.
For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.