The Ocean County Board of Freeholders voted unanimously Wednesday to foist a nearly 7.1 percent tax rate increase on residents, all the while arguing with a straight face that it has been fiscally responsible and austere. Raising property taxes on the backs of homeowners during an achingly long recession before you have exhausted every other option — including furloughs, layoffs, reducing services and tapping more deeply into the surplus account — is the very definition of irresponsible. The freeholders, of course, claim the tax rate hike was “necessary” to offset an $8.1 million deficit in the county’s $347.9 million 2010 budget.
Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. said Ocean County government last year reduced its work force, solely through attrition, by 65 positions. The 2010 budget reflects that decrease, but no further job reductions. The budget maintains the current size of the work force at 1,814 full-time employees.
Bartlett said the freeholders had done everything they felt was prudent to offset the tax rate increase.
“The only place where cuts weren’t made were in the (county) vocational school (system), so should we cut there?” Bartlett asked. “Or in the (county) college, should we cut there? Or in the Board of Social Services, which handles the needs of people in need?”
Where to cut is the board’s decision. But cuts must be made to ease the tax burden. Bartlett’s attempt to portray critics of the tax increase as being insensitive to the needy — “It is in time of economic distress that the social safety net was invented, and it costs money” — was unseemly.
Ocean County government has a well-deserved reputation for patronage hires. That’s where the cost-cutting should begin.
“You need to take responsibility for the number of partisan, political appointees that you have working for the county,” said Waretown resident and fiscal watchdog Michele Rosen, “beginning with your own offices, gentlemen. The fact of the matter is, that $250,000, a quarter of a million dollars, is being spent on salaries on political appointees in your office alone.”
The fat’s still there. It’s a disgrace the freeholder board has refused to take a knife to it, and to reach more deeply into its surplus, to ease the tax burden during these difficult economic times. APP