Monmouth budget adopted

County freeholders trim $3 million from tax levy increase

The Monmouth County Board of Freeholders has adopted a $493 million budget for 2010, an increase of 1.21 percent over last year. The 4-1 vote came after the board adopted an amendment to reduce the proposed tax levy by $3 million. As a result of that amendment and the budget adoption, the amount to be raised by taxation is $302.4 million, up $7.7 million over last year, or 2.6 percent.

“In the face of pervasive economic peril, Monmouth County has stood strong,” Freeholder Director Lillian G. Burry said. “We acted early and decisively to reduce spending while preserving county services. This is not a perfect budget, but it is a good one.”

Burry noted that the county’s financial strength has been recognized by the bond rating agencies that have continued to give Monmouth County their highest recognition in the form of AAA ratings. Yet she also cited concerns that factored into the preparation of this year’s budget, including an erosion of revenues and an increase in fixed costs such as pensions and health benefits.

“The budgets for our operating agencies are actually decreasing while the overall costs continue to grow,” Burry said.

According to a press release from the county, the amount to be raised by taxation in 2010 is $302,475,000, up $7,690,848, or 2.6 percent, from 2009. The county tax rate is 23.89 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, up 1.04 cents.

Freeholder Deputy Director Robert D. Clifton, who oversees the county’s Finance Department, said the board has been actively reducing the burden on taxpayers for the past two years, starting with a 5 percent holdback of discretionary spending in 2008 and a 15 percent cut in department budgets in 2009. The freeholders also reduced their own salaries by 10 percent.

The amendment contained the following additional cuts:

• Reduce spending at Information Technology Services (ITS) by $219,053;

• Reduce spending at the Sheriff’s Office by $409,629;

• Reduce spending at Public Works and Engineering by $29,940;

• Reduce Buildings and Grounds by $120,000 by eliminating consultants;

• Reduce salaries by $675,000.

Freeholder John D’Amico said the critical issue in Monmouth County, the state, and the nation right now is the economy and unemployment, and he was concerned that any further delay in the adoption of the county budget could delay construction projects that are already funded at a time when people need to get back to work.

“We cannot hold these jobs hostage to a prolonged budget process,” D’Amico said.

Freeholder Amy A. Mallet cited a decline in revenues and an increase in fixed costs as a major obstacle to lowering taxes. She has strongly advocated for consolidation of duplicative services wherever possible and more sharing of services at all levels of government as ways of reducing costs.

“This budget is the result of painstaking hours of work, drilling through the numbers from department to department,” Mallet said.

“As a result, we have brought the impact on taxpayers down significantly. We are already moving forward on some of these cost-saving initiatives I have proposed, and I will continue to look for savings throughout the year,” she added,

For 2010, the county continued its hiring freeze whereby all positions are reviewed to determine if they can be abolished, consolidated or reduced to part time. In addition, all departments were asked to reduce their budgets by 5 percent, according to the press release.

Freeholder John P. Curley voted against the budget, saying now is not the time to impose a tax increase when many residents are out of work due to the poor economy.

“I cannot in good conscience support any tax increase,” Curley said. “Residents have cut back on spending and so should we; we are taxing the people of this county to death and it is unacceptable. I gave my word to our residents; I am here to stand up for the taxpayer and will fulfill my pledge to the residents of Monmouth County by casting a no vote on this budget.”