More cuts yield greater tax decrease for county

Public hearing
on 2004 county tab
set for March 15

More cuts yield greater
tax decrease for county
Public hearing
on 2004 county tab
set for March 15

Middlesex County residents may see an even lower tax rate than was initially proposed, as officials last week produced further cuts in the 2004 county budget.

The budget, introduced last Thursday by the Middlesex County Board of Freeholders, will bring a 2.9-cent reduction in the county tax rate. The freeholders had previously said the equalized tax rate would drop by 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation this year, but another $3 million has been cut from a variety of areas in the $323.8 million budget, according to Freeholder Director David B. Crabiel.

"We took an extremely hard look at all our expenses and were able to identify other appropriations to cut," Crabiel said.

The overall tax decrease that has been proposed can be attributed to an 11.2 percent increase in non-tax revenues, a $9 billion increase in property values throughout the county and to reductions in spending, county officials said.

The budget includes the elimination of numerous county jobs, as officials are proposing that 41 employees be laid off, that 28 vacant positions be cut, and that another 20 positions be eliminated through attrition, privatization and forced terminations by the end of the year.

Positions are being cut from virtually every county department, Crabiel said.

He said it is too soon to discuss which positions would be eliminated.

"It’s all over the place," he said, noting that the 41 layoffs "hit all departments."

He said the county corrections department will be "hit harder than most."

Some of that department’s work will be outsourced to the private sector, he said, adding that "almost all" those corrections employees losing their county jobs are getting jobs with the private services.

Employees who could lose their jobs have not been informed yet, he said.

"We’re developing a plan now, which we will have to send to the state Department of Personnel for approval," Crabiel said.

If the terminations are approved, he said, county officials and department heads will then meet with the affected employees.

The layoffs will be effective July 1, he said.

A public hearing on the 2004 budget will be held at 7 p.m. March 15 in New Brunswick.

"We are able to remain taxpayer-friendly by having made exceedingly tough choices," Crabiel said. "Our residents demand and deserve fiscal responsibility."

Despite the tax rate decrease — due in large part to the county’s increased revenues — the budget is going up by 6 percent from last year and the overall amount to be raised through taxes is also going up. Crabiel, however, said he is committed to cutting the county’s overall tax levy in 2005.

In other news, the freeholders sold $10.3 million in taxable refunding bonds last Thursday, and county officials said the move will save taxpayers $3.5 million in interest payments over the life of the loans.

Selling the bonds, officials said, will allow the county to pay off early retirement pension costs incurred in 1991 and 1993 for the county, Middlesex County College, the vocational and technical high schools and the Mosquito Commission.

The annual savings over the life of the 30-year bonds is $119,811.

The bonds sold had maturity dates ranging from 2004 to 2033.

— Brian Donahue