Thursday, April 9th, 2015

The Morris County Freeholders, for the third consecutive year, have adopted a budget with a zero percent increase in county taxes, while maintaining critical services for county residents.

The freeholders, by a majority vote last night, adopted a $329.4 million budget for 2015, with a total tax effort that is the same as last year at $217.9 million.

While holding the line on taxes, the $329.4 million budget continues to fund essential public safety services including the County Correctional Facility, the Office of Emergency Management, the Public Safety Training Academy, the Juvenile Detention Center, the Youth Shelter, the Office of Health Management, the Medical Examiner’s Office, the Office of Weights and Measures, the county’s 911 Emergency Communication Center, the Prosecutor’s Office and the Sheriff’s Office.

“This is a responsible budget that does not increase county taxes for our residents but, as importantly, is based on sound fiscal management that establishes the groundwork for responsible budgeting in future years, continuing to keep spending and taxes down, while ensuring that we maintain essential programs and services for our residents,’’ said Freeholder Director Kathy DeFillippo, who chairs the board’s budget subcommittee.

The total budget is actually $12.0 million higher than 2014, but much of that increase is due to state- and federal-mandated programs that include funding from those sources to help pay for those requirements.

The budget includes an additional $230,000 for County College of Morris to help offset a budget shortfall due to an enrollment decline, $300,000 for human services programs, a $900,000 increase in group insurance costs, $1.2 million in anticipated salary adjustments due to labor agreements, and $1.3 million for more direct service staff in the Sheriff’s Office, Morris View Healthcare Center and Office of Temporary Assistance, which has had a major increase in requests from residents in need of emergency assistance.

It also includes $1.8 million in debt service attributable to the second phase of the county’s solar program; and $5.5 million for state mental health and human service needs, with $4.4 million being paid by the state.

DeFillippo also stressed that the budget has adequate funds to ensure that the county’s neediest residents get the assistance they need, whether meals to seniors or substance abuse, mental health aging, and veterans’ services.

To view the budget, please visit: https://www.scribd.com/doc/258891401/2015-Introduced-Budget

According to Freeholder Thomas Mastrangelo, a member of the budget subcommittee, the zero percent tax increase was a result of three key factors: a $1.7 million saving in pension costs, consolidation of information technology functions, and continued efforts to reduce staff.

“We continue to conservatively manage our budget and the county’s debt, while making sure that our infrastructure remains sound,’’ said Freeholder Mastrangelo.

“While holding the line on taxes, the county still is maintaining all of our vital public safety services offered by the county Prosecutor and Sheriff, and is properly financing the needs of the Correctional Facility, Office of Emergency management, and the Public Safety Academy,’’ said Freeholder Douglas Cabana, the third member of the budget subcommittee.

The budget includes $26.4 million (This will be reduced by $1.6 million from Chapter 12 State Aid funding) for capital projects, with a continued emphasis on roads and bridges, educational facilities and law and public safety, including:

  • $8.6 million for county-maintained roads and $2.9 million for bridge projects
  • $6.4 million for academic facility improvements for County College of Morris and to assist the School of Technology in meeting its capital improvement needs. (This will be reduced by $1.6 million from Chapter 12 State Aid funding)
  • Funding for the Department of Law and Public Safety to upgrade and maintain public safety and communications equipment, improve the academy’s firing range and Life Safety Complex, and buy new self-contained breathing apparatus for the Hazardous Materials Response Team.

Freeholder Cabana said the Freeholder Budget Sub-Committee will continue to work year-round, as it has historically done, to work to identify and develop strategic solutions to potential risks to future budgets.

Those risks, according to Freeholder Mastrangelo, include continued reductions in Medicaid funding for Morris View Healthcare Center; possible increases in health insurance and pension costs; settlement of litigation involving the Solar II program and the county guarantee for debt service for the Solar II and Solar I programs; and the potential restructuring of certain county operations to achieve efficiencies.

Freeholder Director DeFillippo said the freeholders’ continued conservative budgeting practices, a reduction in pension costs, strategic use of the county’s fund balance, and advance planning in the event of future reductions in managed Medicaid revenues should to address the structural balance criteria that rating agencies expect, and ensure the county’s financial strength will be maintained this year and beyond.