County to Introduce 2012 Budget With Slight Tax Hike
Freeholders to introduce spending plan at meeting Wednesday
The Ocean County freeholders will introduce a 2012 budget next Wednesday that will increase taxes 1.84 cents per $100 of assessed property value.
The proposed $354,189,356 spending plan will necessitate a tax rate of 29 cents per $100 of assessed value to raise the $300,026,643 tax levy.
"During the past few years, Ocean County has experienced substantial decreases in revenues and increases in nondiscretionary costs like insurance coupled with a sizeable drop in the county's ratable base," said Deputy Director John C. Bartlett, liaison to the Ocean County Department of Finance. "Combining this with meeting the needs of a growing county has resulted in adjustments to the county property tax rate."
The overall spending plan totals $1.4 million above the $352.7 million 2011 budget, which raised $293.3 million via taxation. The proposed budget increase comes well short of the state-mandated 2 percent cap, representing an increase of half a percent, freeholders said.
"This is a bare bones budget, no bells or whistles," freeholder Director Gerry Little said. "There are no new programs or services. This sustains our core services."
Freeholders plan to hold spending flat across most line items, including Senior Services, Ocean County College and the Ocean Vocational-Technical Schools.
However, other governmental requirements necessitate an increased line item for the Board of Social Services, with an additional $234,573 budgeted for a total $19.7 million expenditure.
"This budget provides a modest increase to the Board of Social Services in order to continue to receive matching state and federal funds," Little said.
The drop in the county's ratable base has lead freeholders to look for savings elsewhere, such as staffing. The 2012 budget features a net loss of 56 positions via attrition for a savings of $358,102 and continues a strategy employed within the past three budget cycles.
"We have reduced the number of positions in county government by almost 200 during the last three years," Bartlett said.
However, the freeholders do plan for new law enforcement hires they say are neccessary to serve the needs of the expanded Ocean County Jail. Twelve corrections officers will be phased into the workforce along with four civilian employees.
"Public safety is a priority for the Board of Freeholders," Freeholder John Kelly said. "We are doing all we can to keep staffing at the appropriate levels while not creating an additional financial burden on the taxpayers who pay the bills."
The freeholders will introduce the 2012 budget at its 4 p.m. regular meeting Wednesday in the county Administration Building, 101 Hooper Ave., Toms River. A public hearing is scheduled for the March 21 freeholder meeting.
"While property values dropped again in Ocean County, it is still important to remember we continue to be one of the fastest growing counties in the state with the largest population of seniors and veterans," Bartlett said. "This budget reflects the ongoing efforts of this board and its county departments to reduce costs and yet provide quality services and programs to our citizens."