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Hughes: Sustainability, "fiscal diet" on 2008 agenda

TRENTON, N.J. -A gloomy economic forecast for the next several years and the pressing need to ease the tax burden on residents will make trimming costs and executing sustainability in government priorities in the next four years, Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes said today in his annual State of the County address.

Hughes, who was elected to a second four-year term as County Executive in November 2007, used his State of the County address in front of the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce to outline his platform for a "less is more" strategy beginning this year.

"It is time for government at all levels to push away from the table and begin losing the fat," Hughes said during the Chamber-sponsored luncheon at Angeloni's Cedar Gardens in Hamilton. "Along with the challenge of a fiscal diet, now is the time to focus on the long-term challenges we face that are not simply County government problems, but that affect all County residents."

The County will work toward initiatives that will become more important in the next decade, Hughes said, such as sustainability, smart growth, and shared services. He cited how effective shared services can be when done wisely. The County saved approximately $1 million when it recently combined the administrative functions of the Mercer County Special Services School District and the County's Technical School.

Moreover, Hughes said the business community is in position to do more than ever to make Mercer a leader in the clean energy industry. New Jersey already ranks fifth in the nation in encouraging the growth of clean energy start-up companies. Some of these companies in Mercer County are delivering solar- and hydrogen-powered energy products and have the potential to bring hundreds of jobs to the County, Hughes said.

The Trenton-Ewing Labor Area added 4,500 jobs in the past year as well, which Hughes said is indicative of the County's ability to stabilize and prosper even in a weak economy. He pledged the County's continued support for existing businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, Hughes said Mercer County remains a great place to live and work. Spending on law enforcement at the Prosecutor's and Sheriff's Office was increased dramatically in the past four years to help keep crime in check, the park system is in the best condition in memory, and County taxes have been flat or stable each year since he took office, he said.

Hughes pledged to continue the Mercer EYES program, which placed more than 50 youth into well-paying, professional jobs last summer, and to give youth across Mercer County the opportunity to succeed in school and in a career.

"I have never been prouder of any program we've started since I've been County Executive," Hughes told today's crowd of 500 that included business people, Chamber members, and elected officials.

In addition, Hughes related the inundation of veterans in the past year at the County's Veterans' Services Office because of large and varied overseas deployments. Now, veterans are returning home in ever greater numbers and seeking to re-enter society. Hughes asked Chamber members and County businesses to "welcome them with open arms" and perhaps offer them jobs or other employment assistance.

Hughes also broke from his speech at one point to perform a ceremonial oath of citizenship for Piero "Pete" Porfirio of Hamilton. Porfirio, an electrician who works in the maintenance department at the N.J. State House, was born in Abruzi, Italy and immigrated to America in his teens. He became a U.S. citizen in 1962, but never took part in a ceremony.

Porfirio wept as Hughes read him the oath, and thanked Hughes, the County and the Mercer Regional Chamber of Commerce.