by Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders
TOMS RIVER-The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders unveiled its 2018 budget that comes with a small decrease in the county property tax rate while funding core services like senior programs.
“This Board is following through on our commitment to lower the county property tax rate as we recover from the losses of the great recession and Superstorm Sandy,” said Ocean County Freeholder Deputy Director John C. Bartlett Jr., who serves as the architect of the County budget. “Last year we decreased the tax rate by 1/10th of a cent and this year we will decrease it by half a cent to 34.7 cents per $100 of equalized value.
“This is the direction we would like to follow,” he said in presenting the proposed budget to the Board on Feb. 28. “As our ratables rise we will gradually reduce the tax rate.”
The freeholders are scheduled to introduce the $416,092,260 spending package during their March 7 meeting at the Ocean County Administration Building, here. A public hearing and adoption of the budget is scheduled for April 4.
Freeholder Director Gerry P. Little said the spending measure is under the 2 percent state imposed spending cap.
“This is a fiscally responsible budget,” Little said. “It is fiscally prudent.
“It will allow us to maintain our AAA bond rating, funds our programs and services and allows us to invest in our infrastructure,” he said.
The $416,092,260 budget is up $8.1 million. The amount to be raised by taxation is $346,491,117, up 1.29 percent.
Property values in the county have increased by 2.74 percent to $99.8 billion.
“And while we are seeing those values gradually increase, we are still $9 billion below the 2009 values when the economy took a downturn,” Bartlett said. “Coupling that with Superstorm Sandy three years later, we saw a major loss in the County. That is now beginning to turn around.”
Bartlett added the budget was $6 million below the two percent spending cap.
“We don’t need a cap,” he said. “We are better than that.”
Bartlett said the County’s surplus in 2018 is $55.4 million. The proposed budget includes about $22 million from surplus.
“In order to maintain our AAA bond rating, it’s imperative we keep a surplus balance that is equal to about 10 percent of the budget,” Bartlett said. “Having the highest bond rating possible helps us tremendously when we need to bond for capital projects.
“In addition a strong surplus balance is necessary in times of natural disasters and emergencies as we all saw after Superstorm Sandy,” Bartlett said.
“We have to build one year’s budget with an eye toward what it means for the future,” Bartlett said.
For instance, Bartlett noted that the 2018 budget returns to using more cash – $25 million – for capital.
He said that by doing this the County is not bonding for items such as trucks or heavy equipment and can pay for major infrastructure upgrades.
“This provides for flexibility in future budgets,” Bartlett said.
Freeholder John P. Kelly, Director of Law and Public Safety, said it was imperative the county look at its long range plans when preparing the budget.
“The budget process takes place throughout the year – 52 weeks,” Kelly said. “We don’t come to the end of the year and ask what did you spend and why?”
Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari, who serves as liaison to Ocean County’s large senior population, said the board was continuing its commitment to the almost 170,000 seniors living in the County by funding key programs like the senior nutrition program and home delivered meals.
“This is more than just a meal for our seniors, this is a lifeline,” he said of the more than 1,100 meals delivered daily. “We are committed to helping our most frail, needy and vulnerable citizens. Our senior programs are second to none and we have pledged this help now and into the future.”
Vicari noted the Board is also continuing its commitment to higher education by appropriating funds to the County vocational technical schools and Ocean County College.
“Education is a priority for this Board of Freeholders,” Vicari said. “We offer quality educational opportunities here in Ocean County that serve as a cornerstone for the future of many of our young citizens.”
Freeholder Virginia E. Haines said the Freeholders are committed to providing government services and programs that are affordable to the taxpayer.
She added the Board works together to develop a budget that is fiscally responsible and that meets the needs of the county’s residents.
“Our process is one of cooperation, not confrontation,” Bartlett said. “We are moving in the right direction. We don’t play games with the budget.”