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WASHINGTON, DC - Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes was invited to the nation’s Capitol today to participate in the White House County Officials Meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Building on the grounds of the White House.

The goal of the conference was to gather County leaders nationwide to discuss the broad spectrum of issues facing county governments, from consolidating services in their constituent communities to ways to procure more federal dollars for projects and infrastructure.

Hughes was among 200 select County officials invited to discuss the following topics: Breaking the Cycle of Jail & Poverty; Infrastructure & Sustainable Communities; and Health Reform Implementation/Medicaid.

“It was an intimate group of County leaders, which lent itself to full participation by everyone,” said Hughes. “I appreciated being asked to participate. It really gave me a chance to talk directly to the Obama administration and create dialogue with counties that are integral to local government.”

The first session on how to break the cycle of jail and poverty was a topic Hughes has had first-hand experience in battling, and the discussion was particularly informative, he said.

“We are really on the cutting edge of this issue in Mercer County. We are tackling the issue head-on with alternatives to incarceration that work to give deserving ex-offenders a chance to re-enter society and at the same time ease the burden to the taxpayer,” Hughes said. “We believe that violent criminals need to complete their sentences, but alternatives to incarceration are the right fit for many non-violent offenders.”

Hughes added Mercer County utilizes the privately-run Bo Robinson detention facility for low-security inmates facing non-violent charges, and touted the County’s new arrangement to consolidate the detention of juvenile offenders by sending them to Middlesex County’s facility, which has the capability to provide many more social services and educational resources than Mercer County’s Youth Detention Center.
 
Leading the first panel on Breaking the Cycle of Jail & Poverty were Vice President Joe Biden, Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health, and Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security.

“We need to break the cycle. On any given day, three-quarters of a million U.S. residents are incarcerated, and 95 percent of them who are repeat offenders will live their lives in poverty,” Hughes said. “Secretary Napolitano indicated that word from our President is that it is ‘all hands on deck’, and that each of us must take steps to solve this problem. As the president has indicated, we cannot write off an entire population of people if we are to compete on the same playing field in this world economy.”

The second session on Infrastructure and Sustainable Communities was led by Ray LaHood, Secretary of Transportation; Shaun Donovan, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and Lisa Jackson, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hughes said the discussion was informative, but that maintenance of infrastructure and stable communities remains perhaps the most challenging task faced by County government.

While counties are federally mandated to maintain safe, modern infrastructures, dwindling state and federal funding has made these tasks extremely difficult. Only through innovative packaging of bridge projects, road and highway repair, and other infrastructure improvements has the County of Mercer been able to keep pace with updating the constantly deteriorating infrastructure, Hughes said. Even more concerning, he added, is that as a centrally-located County in the middle of the most densely populated state in the nation, Mercer County is also in the extraordinary circumstance of maintaining infrastructures that are burdened by commuters, visitors, and interstate commerce perhaps more than any other area in the United States.