By Thomas A. Arnone
As I enter the third year of my first term as a Monmouth County freeholder, I would like to share the following information regarding the county budget.
The 2013 budget plan as presented today totals $481 million which is $6.35 million lower than last year’s adopted budget, and has a flat tax levy for the third year in a row. This spending plan is $12.4 million lower than the spending plan adopted in early 2010, which is where the budget peaked prior to the reduction in the budget over each of the last three years.
The $6.35 million reduction was accomplished by utilizing additional fund balance, anticipated greater levels of revenues that performed well in 2012, a reduction in total salaries based on reduced payroll expenditures, a reduction of capital which will lower new debt authorization, a reduction in health benefits due to new legislation, as well as improved benefits management with the new provider, and a reduction in utility expense due to energy efficiency improvements.
All of these items closed the gap to balance the budget and offset some additional revenue losses that were not expected originally when the budget process started. These include Medicaid cuts for the care centers, reductions in division of social services revenue, reductions in federal inmates and a loss of trust fund revenue due to Super Storm Sandy.
As the liaison and a strong supporter of shared services, I am extremely happy to report that shared services have been a huge success for Monmouth County. As promised, we used revenue from shared services to offset tax increases. Shared services generated revenue in excess of $3.6 million that also went a long way in balancing the budget.
Between 2008 and 2013, the authorized table of organization declined from a total of 3,781 positions to 3,112 positions. That is a reduction of 669 total positions with 380 of them being full-time, 40 being part-time, and 249 being seasonal. The county workforce has been reduced by 17.69 percent in five years since 2008.
In terms of salary expenditures, not budget, the county spent $176.8 million on payroll in 2008. That number has declined every year since until 2012 when it increased by about $1 million. In 2012, total salary expenditures were just under $171 million, which is $5.8 million lower than was spent in 2008, despite the fact that union and non-union salary increases were granted in all years but 2009.
This has been accomplished through an aggressive hiring freeze and review of all nonessential positions. Every time a position becomes vacant, a thorough review is conducted to see if the position can be eliminated, consolidated with another function or reduced to part-time in order to yield savings. The position is only filled when deemed essential to the operation and would generally be filled at a lower salary.
The county continues to face the pressures of increased fixed costs and reduced revenues to the tune of almost $48 million since 2008. Yet we have managed to keep spending levels now lower than 2008’s, while dealing with $48 million of increased costs and reduced revenues.
From 1999 through 2010, the county budget had an average increase of $16.2 million each year, which equates to an average annual percentage increase of 5.14 percent. Since I entered office in 2010, the budget has been reduced each year. Over the last three years the budget had an average annual decrease of $4.13 million, which equates to an average annual percentage decrease of 0.84 percent.
Similarly, from 1999 through 2010, the county tax levy had an average increase of $9.87 million each year, which equates to an average annual percentage increase of 5.09 percent.
It should also be noted that these numbers were improved by a zero-percent tax increase in 2008. Since 2010 the county tax levy has remained unchanged for all three years. For this budget as presented, the county is more than $9.5 million below the governor’s 2 percent CAP law, passed in 2010.
Monmouth County ranks fourth lowest in terms of the amount of the budget to be raised by taxation at 62.07 percent. This means that Monmouth County relies far less on the taxpayers than most of the other counties in New Jersey.
Similarly, Monmouth County also ranks fourth lowest in terms of the rate at which taxes are apportioned to its constituent municipalities at 0.2606 cents per $100 of equalized valuations. Again, this means that, based on the total value of the county, Monmouth County has among the lowest tax burdens in New Jersey.
I am pleased that I have been able to be a part of this budget, especially in the hard economic times we are faced with. It has been and always will be a priority of mine, as well as the entire Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders, to continue this trend of savings to our county residents.
Thomas A. Arnone is freeholder director of the Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders.