TRENTON, N.J. - The effects of the dismal economy on local government and area businesses will force both to endure difficult decisions in the year ahead, but public and private sector employers can meet the challenge with ingenuity, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said today in his annual State of the County address.
Hughes, who delivered his address to an audience of about 500 Jan. 22 during a luncheon sponsored by the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce, said "the economic landscape has changed almost beyond recognition in the last year"leading to record numbers of layoffs, home foreclosures, and frozen credit markets.
"The harsh effects of this have been rippling across our region. I know many businesses are thinking about cutting back, lowering costs, and even shrinking their workforce, 8221; Hughes said during his speech, which he gave for the first time at Sovereign Bank Arena in downtown Trenton. 8220; But never have I had more faith in the ingenuity of the people of Mercer County."
The County Executive urged the public and private sectors to work together to spur the economy with new projects that create new jobs and cited several examples of how the County has pushed forward with planned projects despite difficulties finding investors and securing loans.
He credited health care and education - specifically new hospitals by Capital Health System and University Medical Center at Princeton and the County’s five higher education institutions, which are expanding - with adding jobs in Mercer County in the past year. Mercer County Community College alone served more than 30,000 people in the past year, Hughes said.
Local banks have also remained mainstays in the County even as larger financial institutions have crumbled, giving residents faith in community-based businesses, Hughes said. He congratulated several local businesses being honored by the Chamber this year, including The Pennington Quality Market and New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Company.
The County's planned $80 million criminal courthouse project on South Broad Street in Trenton will also continue even as funding becomes harder to find, Hughes said.
"I have met with Governor (Jon) Corzine's administration and asked them to support this courthouse project. But with or without federal stimulus money, the courthouse project will move forward this year and we need your help to get there,” Hughes told the audience. "Putting people on the job helps our economy and each of them visits your businesses."
Shrinking state and federal aid money will dramatically impact the 2009 County budget, Hughes said. He stated that a budget with no new programs and no added employees would still require an increase of approximately 10 percent in the County tax bill of an average homeowner. The Mercer County surplus, which currently totals more than $20 million, will be utilized in order to minimize that increase, he said.
"Today, I invite the leaders from all our constituent communities -Republican, Democrat, unaffiliated - to join me in creating a list of stimulus projects that we can submit together to the (federal government) for stimulus funding. We can lead the country into the recovery. It can start right here in Mercer County," Hughes said.
Despite the fact the economy is forecasted to remain sluggish, the County Executive highlighted several examples of progress in the face of uncertainty. The overall crime rate in Mercer County dropped in the past year, the County is working to consolidate resources in school districts to save taxpayer money, and Homeland Security grant funds already awarded to Mercer are being used for a Countywide radio system for police, fire, EMS, and other emergency responders.
Hughes' speech was attended by several elected officials, including Mercer County freeholders Anthony Carabelli, Ann Cannon, Keith V. Hamilton, Pasquale Colavita, and John Cimino, Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello, Mercer County Prosecutor Joseph Bocchini Jr., Hamilton Mayor John Bencivengo, West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, and N.J. Assemblyman Wayne DeAngelo.
Hughes closed his address saying America's past holds lessons for today’s bleak financial environment.
"I'd like to leave you today with the eloquent words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt from his first inaugural address, because they resonate as deeply today as they did in 1933 when our country was in the depth of the Great Depression: 'This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously."