The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders today unveiled the 2010 county budget – a spending package that is down by almost $10 million and provides the funding to continue core services for more than 560,000 residents. “This spending measure takes into consideration our economic times and comes with some very deep cuts and a mandate that we will continue to provide quality services and programs at an affordable cost,” said Freeholder John C. Bartlett Jr., who serves as liaison to the county’s Department of Finance. “We pledged at the beginning of the year that we would not grow county government and we would maintain our fiscal integrity.
“I believe this proposed budget implements those directives,” Bartlett said.
The proposed budget totals $347,965,249, down $9,715,643. The proposed county property tax rate to support the total funding measure will be adjusted to 27.2 cents per $100 of assessed property value, up 1.83 cents which will result in the average homeowner seeing a change in their county property tax rate of about $25 this year.
Bartlett explained that the budget preparation came with several financial hurdles including a substantial decline in revenues totaling $16.6 million and a significant increase in nondiscretionary costs from the state for pension and health care totaling almost $8 million.
He noted that had it not been for the additional $8 million the county must pay to the state, the amount paid by residents would not have changed because of a smaller tax base.
“It was necessary to adjust the property tax rate slightly in order to sustain programs and services for our residents and cover the increased costs to the state,” Bartlett said. “However, this budget also makes certain that your streets are plowed when it snows, potholes will be filled on the more than 620 miles of roadways the county maintains, nutritious hot meals will be delivered to our seniors, our most vulnerable residents will be provided with social services, and students will continue to get quality educations at Ocean County College and at our vocational technical schools.”
Bartlett said Ocean County government has and will continue to reduce its workforce. Sixty-five positions were eliminated providing a savings of almost $3 million.
“We are providing the same services and programs with less people,” Bartlett said. “It’s a directive that we have heard loud and clear.”
Bartlett said the proposed budget does not require layoffs. The salary and wage budget remains the same as the 2009 appropriation of $115 million.
“We continue to be vigilant with our staffing needs,” Bartlett said. “We will continue our policy of carefully reviewing any departmental requests for replacing employees.”
Bartlett said departments or agencies slated to receive the same amount of funding in 2010 as last year are Ocean County College, the Ocean County Vocational-Technical School system, the Ocean County Board of Social Services and the Ocean County Office of Senior Services.
“Where the state has fallen continuously short in the area of funding, we continue to hold to our pledge to meet the educational needs of our residents here in Ocean County,” Bartlett said. “During these trying economic times, demand for our social service programs and our senior service programs increases as we take care of our older and most needy residents.”
All other department budgets have been reduced anywhere from 5 to 20 percent. Operating expenses were reduced by $7.4 million.
“We have done a thorough review of all of our programs and departments,” Bartlett said.
In addition, the proposed capital and capital improvement funds in the 2010 budget have been reduced by about $8.9 million, down about 45 percent.
“We will have adequate funding in our capital accounts to continue to make improvements to the county’s infrastructure, particularly improvements for traffic safety, maintenance of our roads and bridges, maintenance of county facilities and other necessary expenditures,” Bartlett said. “Conservative financial planning is the tool that is helping us through these difficult financial times.”
“We have had to adjust and make some changes in different areas but by no means is this government standing still,” Bartlett said.
The 2010 budget will be formally introduced at the board’s 4 p.m., Feb. 3 meeting in Room 119 of the Ocean County Administration Building, here. A public hearing is scheduled for the board’s 4 p.m., March 3 meeting.
The proposed budget will be available on the county’s website at www.co.ocean.nj.us following its formal introduction Feb. 3. Jacksononline.