Thursday, April 28th, 2016

FIRST TAX HIKE SINCE 2012 WILL INCREASE TAX LEVY JUST 2.39 PERCENT, MAINTAIN ALL ESSENTIAL QUALITY OF LIFE SERVICES AND PROTECT COUNTY’S TRIPLE A BOND RATING

The Morris County Freeholders last night unanimously adopted a $337 million 2016 county budget, that includes a total 2.39 percent county tax levy increase for 2016, which is the first increase since 2012, a period in which the current  freeholder board repeatedly held the line at zero on tax increases.

MC

Including the 2016 budget, county taxes have increased only 0.5 percent over the past four years, or a total of less than $20, or just $5 a year, on property assessed at $373,000.

In approving the budget, a freeholder majority also has agreed to consider major, long-term county government initiatives to be discussed in the coming months that could reduce spending in future years.

The 2016 county budget is compliant with state budget cap requirements, as mandated by state law.

“This is a very responsible and carefully crafted budget that includes funding for all essential county programs, including education, parks, human services, law enforcement, corrections and public safety. It also contains funds for a continued aggressive effort to upgrade the county’s road and bridge  infrastructure,’’ said Freeholder Director Kathy DeFillippo, who chairs the freeholders’ budget subcommittee.

Kathy DeFillippo

Kathy DeFillippo

“While our initial goal was a zero percent increase for a fourth consecutive year, doing so would have harmed the county’s long-term fiscal interests and could have jeopardized our long-held, top-ranked Triple A bond rating. It would have been politically expedient to do so, but not a wise move for the long-term health of our county.’’

The freeholders, as part of the budget process, agreed to maintain the county’s voter-approved open space preservation trust fund, cutting it by just one-eighth of a cent to ease the tax burden on residents. It will still provide more than $8 million for open space, agricultural and historic preservation, and purchase of flood-threatened properties. The board also has created a new Trails Construction Grant Program for municipalities, utilizing a portion of the preservation funding for new trails to be created on preserved open space by any of the county’s 39 towns.

The 2016 budget adopted last night, at the freeholders “road meeting’’ at Silas Condict Park in Kinnelon, does the following:

  • Remains financially and operationally efficient;
  • Maintains all public safety initiatives;
  • Sustains all human services programs;
  • Ensures maintenance of all countywide infrastructure;
  • Protects the county’s long-standing Triple A bond rating;
  • Preserves the prudent and methodical use of the fund balance.

Dramatically rising health insurance costs, held in check for several years but increased by $6.4 million this year, is the prime reason for the budget and tax levy increase. To ensure that the health insurance increase was the most moderate possible, the county changed health care carriers in 2016 to ensure the most cost efficient carrier was selected, while employees – whose numbers have declined substantially in the past decade — continued to pay more towards their insurance premiums.

Christine Myers

Christine Myers

“We carefully reviewed every facet of county government to ensure we are operating a modern, efficient and cost effective operation in as fiscally lean a manner as possible, while not jeopardizing programs and services that maintain Morris County’s top quality of life,’’ said Freeholder Christine Myers, also a budget subcommittee member.

“That includes our obligation to help our less fortunate residents get the social services and human services assistance they need during personal times of crisis to help them get back on their feet and to safeguard their families and loved ones,’’ Myers added.

 

“The 2016 budget was only approved after the freeholder board committed to take a hard look at the big fiscal picture, to look at structural changes in county operations in 2017 and beyond that could result in substantial savings in the future,’’ said Deputy Freeholder Director Hank Lyon, also a budget subcommittee member.

Hank Lyon

Hank Lyon

While maintaining a tight rein on spending, the 2016 budget continues to invest in key programs and initiatives that maintain the high quality of life in the county.

Ongoing Investments in Education/ Recreation, include:

  • $13.7 million investment in the Morris County Park Commission
  • $11.8 million investment in the County College of Morris
  • $6.2 million investment in the Morris County School of Technology

The 2016 Morris County budget also will fund a wide variety of vital Human Services that county residents expect, including:

  • More than 500,000 meals annually provided to Morris County’s senior citizens
  • Operation of the Morris View Healthcare Center, which remains home to 283 individuals
  • A wide variety of Human/Social Service programs, including Aging, Disabilities, and Veteran Services; Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse Services, Emergency Assistance Services, and Transportation Services

Meanwhile, the Morris County 2016 capital budget strategically authorizes $25.9 million to responsibly deal with critical infrastructure needs, with a continued emphasis on:

  • $7.6 million for road improvements for the freeholders continued emphasis on upgrading the county’s road network;
  • $3.3 million for bridge reconstruction and replacement projects;
  • $3.5 million for intersection upgrades;
  • $3.7 million for educational facilities, including $3.1 million for building renovations and modernization at CCM and $600,000for HVAC upgrades at the School of Technology;
  • $1.7 million for Morris County’s parks, including road paving, equipment upgrades, and a marina renovation for the park system, which gets 3.5 million visitors annually;
  • $1 million for start-up of voter-approved and court-mandated Criminal Justice Reform.

Juvenile

The 2016 budget also addresses continuing needs in the area of law and public safety, maintaining funding for vital services for the Prosecutor’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, County Correctional Facility, County Office of Emergency Management, Public Safety Training Academy, 911 Emergency Communications Center, Office of Health Management, Juvenile Detention Center, Medical Examiner’s Office, and Countywide Weights and Measures Services.

The county is leveraging its expenses by providing services for several neighboring counties which pay to use Morris County’s Juvenile Detention Center and Medical Examiner’s Office.

To view the county’s 2016 budget, please visit:

https://morriscountynj.gov/transparency/finance/

To view a summary of budget highlights, visit: http://www.authorstream.com/Presentation/MorrisCountyNJ-2772972-2016-morris-county-budget-presentation/