Mercer County’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and federal financial assistance to help support operations at Trenton-Mercer Airport were among the topics that County Executive Brian M. Hughes highlighted in the 2022 State of the County remarks he presented to the Board of Commissioners on Jan. 25.
Mr. Hughes also cited a state grant and pilot program that are bolstering the county’s efforts to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter the community, and he touched on the county’s commitment to protect open space while also providing new recreational opportunities.
But the County Executive began by discussing his administration’s response to the pandemic and its continued commitment to helping keep residents safe through vaccinations and testing. He thanked the many health care entities that have partnered with the county, and noted that since vaccines became available a year ago, his administration has teamed with Capital Health and Penn Medicine Princeton Health to administer more than 40,000 adult and pediatric vaccinations spread over 150 clinics.
“We plan to stay the course and push to get everyone vaccinated and boosted,” Mr. Hughes said. “Vaccines are the most effective tool we have to protect ourselves and those around us – and to get to the other side of this pandemic.”
The COVID-19 testing operation that the county began last month in partnership with the state Department of Health and Vault Health will continue into February, he said. Since March of 2020, when Mercer County opened a drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Quaker Bridge Mall, the county and its health care partners have provided more than 7,000 in-person tests and 13,000 at-home test kits, he added.
Meanwhile, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a “once-in-a-generation investment in America’s transportation network,” will initially allocate nearly $3.5 million for Trenton-Mercer Airport, with a similar tranche of funding available each year for the next five years, as part of a program for airport development, Mr. Hughes said.
“This renewable grant will help us attain the goal of putting in place a long-term 21st century solution for Trenton-Mercer Airport,” he said, adding that the airport also has received almost $13.5 million in coronavirus-related funding from the Federal Aviation Administration to maintain “this vital economic engine” during the pandemic.
Mr. Hughes also touched on an initiative that is bolstering the county’s efforts to help formerly incarcerated individuals return to the community. A budget resolution that was advanced by the state’s 15th District legislators – Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli and Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson — made it possible for the county, under an $850,000 grant and pilot program, to hire a re-entry coordinator and three community outreach workers at the Mercer County Correction Center. The team works to ensure former inmates experience no delays in getting access to benefits and services vital for re-entry into the community, including supportive housing programs and substance abuse treatment.
“Helping inmates avoid barriers upon their release is a vital step toward enabling them to rebuild their lives,” Mr. Hughes said. “Offering hope is not enough. We have found that when the re-entry team engages with inmates prior to their release, discharge planning and linkages to services are more successful and the outcomes are more positive.”
Turning to open space and recreation, the County Executive highlighted two Park Commission sites, one that recently became a Mercer County facility and one that the commission will take possession of in 2023.
The latter is the Moores Station Quarry in Hopewell Township, where mining operations will cease next spring when the county’s 25-year agreement with the quarry operator expires. At that point, the multi-year process of transforming the open-pit quarry into a park will begin, and the final Master Plan adopted by the Park Commission last fall provides a glimpse of what the site will ultimately have to offer.
The Hopewell Valley Golf Club, acquired by the county in late 2020, has been undergoing renovation during the past year, Mr. Hughes said. The pool – the county’s first public swimming pool – opened to residents last summer, along with Har-Tru tennis courts and pickleball courts, he said, while the golf course is slated to open in April.
Mr. Hughes also noted the benefits of the November referendum passage that increases Mercer County’s Open Space Trust Fund allocation for park development and historic preservation to 30 percent and land stewardship activities to 20 percent. The remaining 50 percent of the Trust Fund dedicated to land acquisition will allow the county to continue land preservation efforts at the current spending level, he said.
“This new allocation will provide additional resources to develop parks and trails for our diverse and growing population,” Mr. Hughes said. “In addition, the increase in funds for land stewardship will enhance our ability to care for our preserved lands, ensuring that they retain the ecological values for which they were preserved.”
Submitted by Mercer County