Ocean County Tax Rate, Budget to Rise in 2014

Social services costs, equipment replacements also spur budget increase

Patch File Photo
Patch File Photo
A combination of Ocean County losing an additional $300 million in ratables over the past year and increased demand for social services will end up costing taxpayers nominally on their tax bills this year.

The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders introduced its $400.8 million, 2014 operating budget Wednesday, up $14 million from last year. If approved after a public hearing next month, county taxpayers will pay 1.6 cents more per $100 of assessed real estate valuation over last year. A homeowner would pay a total of 34.1 cents per $100.

The reasons for the budget increase are numerous, said Freeholder John C. Bartlett, who presented the budget.

Though county officials expected the tax base to begin to grow stronger after Superstorm Sandy's initial shock, it lost an additional $300 million, forcing the tax burden to be spread among those whose homes remain standing.

"Some towns were somewhat slow last year in putting storm-related damage on the tax rolls," said Bartlett, meaning the storm likely caused even more damage than was reflected in last year's budget. "Also, 4,000 buildings have been demolished and have yet to be rebuilt. I was surprised, to tell you the truth, that we lost another $300 million, but I do understand it."

The struggling economy is also placing demands on the county budget, with the county's Board of Social Services needing $1,678,000 in additional funding to meet the needs of county residents receiving services such as food stamps, welfare payments and Medicaid.

The Affordable Care Act made more individuals eligible for Medicaid, said Bartlett, and recent federal changes also increased the number of people eligible to receive food stamps. The increased number of applicants created backlogs in the Social Services department over the past year, even necessitating the county to ask for help from the state to keep up.

The additional funding in the 2014 budget will be used to hire more workers for the department.

"When Washington passes these gigantic social programs, while it’s beneficial on the one hand, it also comes down to the people on the front lines who administer this," said Freeholder Gerry P. Little.

Bartlett said about 50,000 Ocean County residents now receive food stamps.

Another expense in the county's operating budget this year – mostly caused by Mother Nature – is the need to replace county vehicles that suffered damage during both Sandy and the tough winter this year.

"We haven’t replaced any of those vehicles in five years," said Bartlett.

The budget allocates $5,649,000 for new road department trucks, front loaders and other vehicles to replace those that are now constantly in need of repairs.

There are also some increased labor costs, though they are reasonable enough to keep the budget in line with state spending caps. The county settled labor contracts with all of its unions this year, keeping raises to about 1.5 percent per year in all of them, Bartlett said.

The county will also work to keep 10 percent of its budget in surplus in order to maintain its AAA bond rating, which saves taxpayers in the form of debt service payments. Bartlett said this year's budget uses $16 million in surplus, down from $16.5 million last year.

"There are no surprises in this budget, and we don’t see any on the horizon," said Bartlett, adding that with Sandy rebuilding taking place, an increased tax base next year could ease the budget pressure, allowing the tax rate to decrease.

The budget will be formally introduced at the freeholder board's regular meeting next Wednesday. It will be up for a final adoption April 16.

WMS826 March 14, 2014 at 11:20 AM
Government works best when it is small. Eliminate BIG government and do not create ONE big entity. We already have that called the federal government and look how much money we loose there and how little voice you have. Keep your small towns, create more small towns from big ones so the people can watch and be heard more often.
Robert Yates March 14, 2014 at 01:52 PM
@ Mr. Happy must be correct, right guys and gals? I sure do feel like an ignoramus and a weirdo for suggesting that perhaps the people would be just fine operating under the rule of 3 government entities instead of 4. I mean it sure was wacky of me to suggest that we might just be okay forking over a mere $3,033,092,000,000.00 instead of $3,033,492,000,000.00. With people like Mr. Happy in charge, this country; this state; this county; this town are surely lost. The arrogance and elitism is astounding.
jerseytomato March 14, 2014 at 06:12 PM
Today, Bloomberg news features an article stating that again, New Jersey has the highest property taxes in the nation. The Ocean County Chosen Board of Freeholders need to begin making severe budget cuts. Taxpayers, aka: Voters, are feeling rather misanthropic. Same can be said of the School Board Administration. Taxpayers pay top dollar in this state, but New Jersey students are not top ranking. It's time our angst is reflected at the polls. Slash outlandish salaries at the top, slash social service programs for illegals, and make necessary budget cuts in every department - or our votes will elect someone else.
Sun Tzu March 15, 2014 at 04:01 PM
So why is there an increase in social services. I didn't authorize this. Did any of you folks give permission to use your hard earned dough for and increase in social services?
jerseytomato March 18, 2014 at 12:51 PM
Sun Tzu - heck no. Apparently, none of the Freeholders care. Apparently, they aren't aware that taxpayers, aka: constituents are feeling rather misanthropic, and hosed. Ever notice the numbers of illegals have risen? How about unwed mothers? Same can be said of those who are unwilling to work. We are the only country in the world that rewards a woman for lying on her back, with a check, housing, food, medical, and now a cell phone and cable television. You and I are paying for all of it, including those fat salary increases, bloated retirement packages, etc. It's sick.


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