Ocean County Budget OK'd
Taxes rise slightly
Ocean County’s freeholders unanimously approved a $352.7 million budget for 2011 Wednesday afternoon, hiking the county tax rate by nine-tenths of a penny to support it.
The budget is up $4.7 million from a year ago, although Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. said $1 million of the hike is spending for which the county government will be reimbursed.
Taxpayers are asked for $293.3 million to support the budget, up $6.3 million from a year ago. The impact of the added spending will push the county tax rate to 28.1 cents per $100. The owner of a $300,000 house will pay an additional $27 in county taxes this year as a result of the new budget.
The only speaker at the budget hearing was Michele Rosen of Waretown, the Democratic candidate for the seat now held by Republican Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari.
She urged the freeholders to begin eliminating confidential aides she said are costing taxpayers $1.5 million a year.
“They’re unnecessary to government,’’ she insisted, pointing to one making $106,000 in the Parks Department.
Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. said that job title is actually one set by civil service for what used to be the deputy director of that department.
“It’s not just some made up job,’’ he said.
Rosen said the department already has a department head and a division head. Bartlett said the division head performs what used to be two jobs, one in the Parks Department, and what once was a separate position overseeing the Cultural and Heritage activities of the county.
Rosen also urged the freeholders to “bring the legal department in house.’’
She said legal fees amounted to $1.3 million last year. County attorney Jack Sahradnik is getting a $75,000 retainer plus a pension she estimated at $31,000 he began collecting in 2009 as a result of being a salaried government lawyer. Two assistants, Laura Benson and former Tuckerton Mayor Michael Mathis, get $38,000 retainers, she complained.
Rosen suggested the freeholders stop awarding contracts to their political contributors, and ban nepotism.
Vicari called the spending package a “great success,’’ claiming “one obstructionist’’ might have made it impossible to reach a budget agreement.
Bartlett said crafting the budget was made tougher because of the opening of the $55 million jail addition this year, which meant 28 more jail guards had to be hired. That added $2.5 million to the budget. Income of interest dropped $2 million from a year ago, he said.
Social service spending is up $600,000, and the county paid $3.1 million into the state pension system. Altogether that added $6.2 million in spending, he said. Jobs, 62 this year, and 65 last year, are being eliminated by attrition, he said. The freeholders used $17.2 million of the $33.9 million surplus, down $500,000 from last year, to offset spending.
Aid to Ocean County College was pared by $500,000, donations to outside organizations were cut 10 percent, and the county will borrow less this year, Bartlett explained. He said $32 million of county debt will be paid off this year and $26 million in new borrowing authorized.
The county’s debt is less than a fifth of its borrowing limit, he explained. Coupled with the stable surplus, he said the county will maintain its AAA credit rating, the highest possible.
Vicari said despite the recession the new budget will “serve the needs of a growing county.’’
It also meets the requirements of state law, after an amendment was made to shift $150,000 from planned spending on road paving to the Vocational-Technical Schools.
The freeholders and Vocational-Technical Board of Education had agreed on a $150,000 cut in county support this year, but state regulators would not permit the cut.
Bartlett said Sen. Chris Connors, R-9, is working on Legislation to make future cuts of that kind legal.