Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes touched on a wide variety of issues during his annual State of the County address January 23, 2018, from proposed projects at the county college and Trenton-Mercer Airport, to land stewardship, to the collaborative effort that resulted in an end to chronic homelessness in 2017.
Speaking to an overflowing crowd during a Board of Chosen Freeholders meeting at the McDade Administration Building, Hughes announced that through his administration’s partnership with the Board of Social Services, the Mercer Alliance, and others — an effort that has been recognized nationally for drastically reducing homelessness — every chronically homeless person they identified in 2016 “had a place to call home by 2017.”
“We aim to keep that track record, and I look forward to the day when anyone who needs shelter has a home,” Hughes said.
Hughes praised Mercer County Community College and its president, Dr. Jianping Wang, for “helping build the foundation for the high-tech economy of the future” by partnering with businesses to provide new career opportunities and for continuing to invest in downtown Trenton.
The college has conceptualized the establishment of an Arts, Culture and Education District surrounding its Trenton campus which, in addition to an art gallery and fashion design studio, will include a Health and Wellness Education Center, a new fashion warehouse, and the renovation and reopening of the North Broad Street Theatre, Hughes said. At the West Windsor campus, the college plans to break ground this year on a Fine Arts building addition that will serve as home for the college’s new University Center, where five partner universities will offer bachelor degree programs, according to Hughes.
“These innovative projects will build on a foundation of education for jobs and workforce development to advance earning, promote investment, and move the Mercer County economy forward,” he said.
Hughes said the County has been “charting a path toward an improved Trenton-Mercer Airport terminal,” for several years, and that it plans to “advance the process” upon completion of an airport Master Plan update that is in its final stages. In the meantime, he said, commercial flights at the airport continue to be very popular, with passenger traffic in November 2017 up 36 percent over the previous year.
Land stewardship, which Hughes called a “communitywide endeavor,” has taken on greater importance in recent years, noting that his administration has been involved in preserving more than 5,400 acres, along with improving and maintaining 10,000 acres of county parklands.
To help the county manage this land, the position of land steward was recently created through the Park Commission, and has been funded by the County Open Space Trust Fund and supported by Mercer County residents, explained Hughes.
“Moving forward, we are developing management plans to care for our habitats, such as combating the Emerald Ash Borer, restoring grasslands at Mercer Meadows and managing destructive deer overpopulation,” he said, adding that citizen and community group participation is welcome.
The County Executive also pointed to current and future projects that will be important sources of trade jobs, including renovations to the Mercer County Courthouse Annex, the potential renovation of the old courthouse, and close to a dozen bridge construction projects planned for the next two years.
Hughes paid homage to longtime County Counsel Arthur Sypek Jr., who is retiring effective next week, and shared that the retirements of other longtime directors may be on the horizon.
“This administration is dynamic and changeable,” Hughes said. “But no matter the changes, Mercer County can expect top-notch service by hard-working, dignified employees.”