County Introduces $352.6M Budget; Tax Increase Is Proposed
Spending plan carries average $27 tax increase; budget hearing April 20.
Property taxes will be going up to support a $352.6 million Ocean County budget due to be formally introduced March 16, according to Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr.
The 2011 county tax rate is set to rise .9 of a penny, to 28.1 cents per $100, he said. That translates into a $27 county tax increase for the owner of a $300,000 home. Total taxes needed to support the budget rose $6.3 million to $293.3 million in the budget proposal.
The total budget is up $4.7 million from last year, but is $2 million less than the county’s 2009 spending package.
“The cutbacks we made in 2010… made the 2011 budget work,’’ Bartlett explained, pointing to the decisions to reduce the workforce through attrition and cut spending.
This year’s budget “makes provision for the future,’’ when there will be no surprises in the county spending plan, he added.
What about the hotly debated new state 2 percent budget cap? Bartlett said the plan the freeholders support is $3.7 million under that cap, and under the old spending cap the new one replaced.
There are no layoffs or vital services eliminated in the budget. This year 62 positions will be eliminated by attrition, as were 65 last year, Bartlett said. Other expense spending will remain where it was last year, down $10 million in the last three years.
Spending on salaries and wages is being pared by $1.3 but provides funds to honor all existing contracts and anticipates “every successful negotiations on new contracts,’’ according to the senior freeholder.
“We don’t have the money’’ for fat contract settlements, he insisted.
Cuts include $500,000 less to Ocean County College, $150,000 less to the Vocational Technical Schools, and a 10 percent cut in support to community groups.
Freeholder John P. Kelly said the $55 million addition to the county jail will open soon, meaning 28 more corrections officers are being hired and five vacancies are being filled.
That means $2.5 million more will be needed to run the jail this year than last.
He said nearly 20 years ago, when he took office, there was talk of building a new jail. He discovered 140 state inmates were being houses in the county jail, with the state paying the county to house them.
The decision was made to send the state inmates to state prison, buying time before the county needed more jail cells. Bartlett said the county’s population has increased 66 percent since then, and so has the need for jail cells.
Likewise, he said, a year ago there was a proposal to add more than 100 corrections officers to staff the expanded jail. He called in county officials, including the warden, and turned to technology and staffing options to pare that number of 28.
With the national economy still in tatters, Bartlett said spending for the county Board of Social Services will increase by $600,000, to nearly $20 million. Freeholder Gerry P. Little said that spending helps qualify the county for state and federal funds to help those being hurt by the recession.
Bartlett said the county will spend $17.2 million of its surplus to support the budget, $500,000 less than last year. Interest on county investments dropped a “staggering $2.3 million,’’ because of low interest rates, he said. The county also realized $300,000 less in canceled capital spending this year than last, he said.
Little said about a third of the tax hike this year was due to a $1.2 billion drop in property values across the county, which meant $3.1 million less in county taxes.
Property values in the county soared to $109.9 billion during the housing bubble, dropped $4.4 billion last year, and are estimated at $104.3 billion in the county budget.
A public hearing on the county budget is set for 4 p.m. April 20 in the freeholder meeting room of the county Administration Building at 101 Hooper Avenue, Toms River.