Decreases in Ocean County's ratable base and slowing revenues have contributed to a "bare bones" 2012 budget proposal that will raise roughly $6.7 million more in taxation over the 2011 levy.
The county Board of Freeholders unanimously introduced a $354,189,256 budget at its regular meeting Wednesday in the county, 101 Hooper Ave. The proposed spending plan would be supported by a $300,026,643 tax levy that employs a tax rate of 29.9 cents per $100 in equalized value, a 1.7-cent hike over the 2011 spending plan.
"There are no bells and whistles" in the budget plan, Freeholder Director Gerry Little said. "There are no new programs and no new services. It is simply designed to maintain and sustain our core services," he said.
Deputy Director John Bartlett said the county has been able to "ride through these difficult times" of the last few years with prudent planning, although the 2012 budget process was "met with two difficulties:" the county's "other" revenues (fees, licenses, etc.) are "down significantly" while the "taxable value of Ocean County is down by about $4 billion."
Freeholders estimate roughly $100 billion in ratables in 2012, down $4 billion from 2011 and almost $9 billion from 2008's nearly $109 billion valuation.
Year Ratable Valuation Tax Rate Amount to be Raised by Taxation 2008 $108,897,663,942 25.4 cents per $100 $276,305,117 2009 $109,906,985,727 25.5 cents per $100 $278,876,987 2010 $105,510,706,298 27.2 cents per $100 $287,002,464 2011 $104,334,745,378 28.1 cents per $100 $293,278,750 2012 (estimated) $100,177,834,492 $29.9 cents per 100 $300,026,643
Freeholders elect to apply $17 million from its surplus to make up for the decreases in revenue without saddling residents with a much larger tax bill. Spending across most departments remains flat or has been reduced, while the board has not replaced almost 200 county staffers who have departed in the past three years. The savings in salaries from just 2011 is $360,000, Little said, with 56 positions eliminated via attrition.
"This is not a rich county and we have to be very careful with the appropriation of other peoples' money," Bartlett said.
The freeholders noted they could have asked more of taxpayers but elected not to do so. The proposed 2012 budget is roughly $4 million under the state-mandated 2 percent cap, representing a less than half of 1 percent increase over the 2011 budget.
Freeholders could have possibly averted a tax increase entirely in the 2012 proposal if not for the expansion of the Ocean County Jail, Freeholder John Kelly said. The revamped jail, which addressed capacity problems, has necessitated the hiring of 44 law enforcement and civilian staffers in the past two years.
The overall spending plan totals $1.4 million above the $352.7 million 2011 budget, which raised $293.3 million via taxation.
Despite the 2012 proposal being an austerity plan, the freeholders "did maintain the vital core services of Ocean County," Freeholder Joseph Vicari said.
"It's bare bones... but it also meets the needs of the county," Kelly said.
Members of the public can speak about the 2012 budget at a hearing at 4 p.m. March 21 in room 119 of the county Administration building. The freeholders will vote to adopt the budget after the hearing.
To view the 2012 proposed budget, click here.