Monmouth freeholders approve $457M budget


Staff Writer

It’s official. The Monmouth County Board of Freeholders adopted the county’s 2006 budget following a public hearing Feb. 23 at the Hall of Records, Freehold Borough. The budget calls for an increase in the budget from $435 million in 2005 to $457 million this year.

Although the county tax rate will decrease about 3.5 cents from 29.96 cents in 2005 to 26.48 cents per $100 of equalized valuation in 2006, the tax levy to support the spending package is up 3.3 percent, or $8.9 million, to $278.4 million in 2006.

The county tax rate will differ in each town because it is adjusted according to the property values.

According to Mark E. Acker, the county’s finance director, the adopted budget is the same as the one that was introduced by the freeholders in late January.

“There were absolutely no changes from the budget we introduced,” Acker said. “This budget is very lean. The only way to get it lower would be to start cutting services. When we began talking about this year’s budget we were looking at an increased tax levy of $18 million. We got it down to $8.9 million.”

As has been the case in recent years, officials have been able to decrease the tax rate because of the county’s rising ratable base. The ratable base increased $14.66 billion from $90.1 billion in 2005 to $106 billion in 2006, Acker said.

He said this increase continues because of new construction and rising property values in the county.

County officials implemented a zero-based budgeting approach this year that established priorities in each department, resulting in spending reductions at Brookdale Community College, the vocational school district and the Monmouth County Park System.

At the same time, the county has been able to decrease its rate of spending by slashing the amount of overtime pay to its employees, officials said.

According to Acker, the department which will feel the overtime reduction the most will be the sheriff’s department. Acker’s figures indicate that the overtime budget for sheriff’s officers will be cut $800,000, while another $710,000 in overtime will be sliced from other departments. He said new hires will help to decrease the reliance on overtime.

The spending package cuts $1.7 million from the sheriff’s department budget, from $6.8 million in 2005 to $5.1 million in 2006.

“The sheriff has clamped down on sick leave abuses and overtime,” said Freeholder Lillian G. Burry, liaison to the sheriff’s department. “We also privatized the nursing services at the county jail. The hard work that went into preparing this budget is reflected in the numbers.”

Burry, also liaison to the park system, noted that four full-time vacancies at parks were not filled. Combined with overtime reductions, the overall savings from parks was $587,495.

The county tax is one part of a property owner’s overall tax bill. Other taxes include municipal taxes, local school district taxes, fire district taxes (where applicable), regional school district taxes (where applicable) and open space assessments.

In a municipality where the tax rate cited above would be in place (dropping from 29.96 cents to 26.48 cents this year), a property owner’s county tax payment would decrease from $600 on a $200,000 assessment in 2005 to $530 on a $200,000 assessment in 2006.

Freeholder Deputy Director Robert D. Clifton noted that the Department of Human Services, which he oversees as liaison, cut staffing levels this year by 10 full-time positions in order to limit the department’s budget increase to 1.6 percent.

“It has been said that we can be judged on how well we take care of those who are the most vulnerable,” Clifton said. “With this budget Monmouth County will continue to show a deep compassion for the less fortunate while also addressing the concerns of the average taxpayer.”