Alexander Mirabella was sworn in as chairman of the Union County freeholder board for the fifth time on Sunday, Jan. 5, pledging several initiatives, including an expansion of the county’s emergency dispatch service and repurposing property to be a working farm for vo-tech students.
Currently in his eighth three-year term after first being elected in 1997, Mirabella was previously chairman of the freeholder board in 2001, 2006, 2009 and 2012. He replaces 2019’s chairwoman, Bette Jane Kowalski, who retained her seat in November along with fellow Democrats Sergio Granados and Rebecca Williams, who was elected to her first full term.
The nine-member freeholder board consists of all Democrats. The last Republican elected to the board was in 1998.
Mirabella announced his initiative priorities at the 164th annual reorganization meeting of the board, which was held in the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth and attracted Gov. Phil Murphy, as well as local state Sens. Joe Cryan and Nicholas Scutari, and state Senate President Steve Sweeney.
Among his priorities for the coming year, Mirabella plans to expand the Union County Regional Dispatch Center, a shared service handling emergency calls for county and regional response units, as well as medical centers and municipal responders. The center was launched in 2012 with a half-dozen municipalities using its services. The facility has increased to serving 14 municipalities and two medical centers along with six county and regional units.
Additionally, Mirabella promised the distribution of new radios to enable municipal fire departments to communicate more effectively with county responders during emergencies. Under this program, Union County will distribute a total of 62 radios to seven municipal fire departments: Clark, Fanwood, Garwood, Hillside, Kenilworth, Mountainside and Plainfield.
With the 2020 U.S. Census pending, Mirabella vowed to partner with Union County College, Kean University, municipalities and many other “complete count” committees. Union County has also recruited high school students to help engage the public through the UC-STEP youth development and leadership program.
He also made reference to turning county property on Cushing Road into a working farm created and run by students at the Union County Vocational-Technical School District in Scotch Plains, connecting the campus with trends in urban agriculture and the farm-to-table economy.
Other items on the wish list include investigating a new business trades apprenticeship program with Union County College, considering a “Fresh Start” initiative to provide mobile bathing and laundry service for “people in need,” and adapting the indoor riding ring at Watchung Stable for wheelchair accessibility.
Continuing work includes the master plan for the reservoir in Clark and new turf fields at Snyder Avenue Park in Berkeley Heights, Madison Avenue Park in Rahway and Oak Ridge Park in Clark.
The county is also launching a pilot program to take many summer camps from the Watchung Reservation in Mountainside to Warinanco Park in Roselle. Other projects include the addition of an audio feed to the peregrine falcon cam in Elizabeth and programs at the Trailside Nature and Science Center leading up to the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22.