Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

The Morris County Freeholders have introduced a 2011 county operating budget that reduces the gross county tax levy for the third consecutive year.

The proposed budget also comes in below the state mandated 2 percent hard cap on spending increases. The freeholders accomplished that goal without excluding items such as pension and health insurance costs and debt service payments, for which exclusions are permitted under the cap law.

Under the proposed 2011 budget, the gross county tax levy is down $1.8 million from 2010, inclusive of a half-cent reduction in the Open Space Tax, with a spending increase of just 1.59 percent.

Freeholder Margaret Nordstrom, who chairs the freeholder budget committee, said the freeholders again used a program based budgeting approach in developing this year’s spending plan, looking at areas that could be reduced or eliminated if they were too costly, obsolete or redundant.

The budget also reflects a salary freeze agreed to by 1,722 county employees in 18 of 21 bargaining units, Nordstrom said.

“These employees realize the difficult financial situation we find ourselves in, and they are making personnel sacrifices to help us respond and continue to meet the needs of our citizens, and they are to be commended,” Nordstrom said.

Freeholder Gene Feyl said budget priorities include the continuation and expansion wherever possible of shared services agreements with towns and nearby counties.

For example, he said the county this year will be providing full emergency dispatch services from its Communication Center to 21 towns and 9-1-1 emergency services to one community. These agreements are expected to generate $2.8 million in revenue to the county this year, Feyl said, while at the same time saving the participating towns money in the form of personnel and technology upgrades.

Shared services agreements with several counties for the use of Morris County’s Juvenile Detention Center and the Morris County Youth Shelter will reduce costs and result in more than $1 million in revenue to Morris this year, he said.

The freeholders have also entered into shared services contracts with Warren and Sussex counties under which the Morris County Medical Examiner’s Office assumes jurisdiction of the medical examiner cases for those two counties, with more than $453,000 in anticipated revenue coming to Morris, which is also saving $150,000 in operating costs, Feyl said.

The 2011 budget shows a 1.04 percent reduction in salaries and wages and a gross reduction of 64 county employees.

Nordstrom said 26 positions were added to the Communication Center, and these will be fully funded by the municipalities whose emergency services are being dispatched by the county.

The Medical Examiner’s Office shared services contract with Warren and Sussex counties resulted in the addition of seven positions to the Medical Examiner’s Office, with those positions fully funded by the counties being served.

The net county staff reduction for 2011 is 31 positions. Since 2005, 384 county government positions have been eliminated representing a 16.4 percent reduction in staff.

Freeholder Ann Grossi said the 2011 budget includes more than $41 million to fund human services programs such as providing approximately 540,000 meals under the county nutrition program for senior citizens, 82,100 rides to senior citizens and the disabled under the county’s MAPS program, and to execute 69 agreements with community-based agencies and Municipal Alliances to provide a wide array of programs for the elderly, disabled, veterans, homeless and youth as well as drug abuse rehabilitation and mental health services.

The human services budget also includes more than $15 million to meet the increased requests from those in need of general assistance programs such as food stamps, and $2.8 million in Grant-in-Aid funding with various services providers recommended by the Human Services Advisory Council, the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Advisory Board and the Youth Services Advisory Committee, Grossi said.

Also included in the budget is the county’s contribution of $15.3 million to the state pension systems.

Other highlights of the 2011 county budget include:
●$27.5 million for the operation of the Morris County Correctional facility.
●$20.6 million for Public Works.
●$19.6 million to fund the Prosecutor’s Office.
●$15 million to fund the Sheriff’s Office.
●$13.7 million for the Morris County Park Commission.
●$11.6 million for the County College of Morris.
●$6.8 million in Social Security contributions.
●$6.24 million to fund the School of Technology.
●$5.8 million for library services including the Morris County Library, which counted 312,243 patron visits last year, a 6 percent increase from 2010.
●$1.9 million for the Mosquito Commission, which provides mosquito control, stream dredging and clean-up to all 39 municipalities.
●$1 million for the Division of Weights and Measures, which ensures that Morris County consumers are protected by checking all commercial weighing and measuring devices such as supermarket scales and gasoline pumps for accuracy.
●$1 million for the training of all local emergency first responders.
●$801,776 for the Office of Emergency Management, which provides emergency and coordinating services to all Morris County municipalities.
●$627,283 for the health services provided by the county’s Health Management Office. Those services include environmental compliance, responding to hazardous materials spills, monitoring for outbreaks of infectious disease and supporting other public health agencies in the county.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for March 23 during the regular
freeholder public meeting that begins at 7:30 p.m.