For the first time in more than a decade, the Ocean County Board of Freeholders has increased the tax rate of 25.4 cents per $100 of equalized property value to 27.2 cents, an increase of 1.8 cents. Between declining revenue streams and added financial burdens imposed by state government, the freeholders argued that a tax increase was necessary to offset an $8.1 million deficit in the county’s $347.9 million 2010 budget. The county already has reduced the size of the deficit from $24.5 million through spending reductions and the planned use of $17.7 million in surplus, which is about half the available amount.
About 90 people attended the public hearing Wednesday, filling the freeholders’ meeting room. Earlier in the week, the Ocean County Democratic Organization had dispatched e-mails and mounted an advertising campaign encouraging the public to attend.
Before the unanimous vote that adopted the county’s budget, Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr. said the freeholders had done everything they felt was prudent to do to offset the tax hike.
“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?” Bartlett asked the room.
“It is in time of economic distress that the social safety net was invented, and it costs money,” he said.
Michele F. Rosen, 63, a Waretown resident who has made headlines as a fiscal watchdog both in her hometown and at the county level, said the county could have reduced its labor force by getting rid of many political patronage appointments.
“You need to take responsibility for the number of partisan, political appointees that you have working for the county — unnecessary, partisan political appointees, beginning with your own offices, gentlemen,” Rosen said. “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.”
Donato A. Lombardi Jr., 70, of Toms River, said he was at the meeting to speak on behalf of senior citizens. “I’m going to speak for the senior citizens because I am one,” Lombardi said, who complained that seniors had perhaps been hit hardest by the economy because they have been denied cost of living adjustments in their Social Security benefits. APP