TOMS RIVER – The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted its 2019 budget, its first with Freeholder Deputy Director John Kelly helming that process.
Kelly unveiled this $432 million budget back in February, and it passed without public comment at the Freeholders’ regular March 20 meeting.
“What does this budget cover? It covers all the core services provided to the 600,000 people that call Ocean County home,” Kelly said. “It makes certain that our seniors, who rely on so many senior programs we have, including our nutrition program that provide daily meals, are fully funded. …It assures residents in Ocean County that they can attend Ocean County College and our vo-tech schools at an affordable price, providing them with a quality education that is the cornerstone for opportunity for good jobs and a great future.”
The budget also funds maintenance the county’s 626 miles of roads and 259 bridges and culverts, Kelly added. It covers the everyday mundanity – filling potholes, plowing snow – to the future, such as funding stormwater management systems to keep Barnegat Bay clean.
The budget also includes a healthy amount to fund veterans’ programs, something near and dear to Freeholder Gerry Little’s heart, Kelly said.
The opioid addiction crises plaguing not only Ocean County but the entire state remains a primary concern for the Freeholders. The budget includes funding for law enforcement – sheriff’s department, prosecutor’s office, corrections, security, and juvenile services – to maintain public safety.
“They are working to meet the ongoing challenges brought on by the opioid crisis,” Kelly said. “It is our commitment to help those that are affected by the addiction so that they know support and help available for them, but we also make sure our law and public safety agencies are working to reduce the crime that is linked to this crisis, so we are all safe in our homes and our neighborhoods.”
So services this year are maintained as the tax rate goes down another half cent, leveling off at 34 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.
The county does receive some state and federal aid, but is mostly funded through the local tax levy. This year, almost 82 percent of its operating budget – $353.1 million – will be raised by taxation, under cap at 1.89 percent over last year’s $346.5 million levy.
The total budget is up from $416.1 million in 2018 to $432 million this year.
Some highlights include:
- $15.7 million for Ocean County College, an increase of $454,418
- $19 million for Ocean County Vocational Technical School, an increase of $372,768
- $9.3 million for a “pay as you grow” appropriation, so the county doesn’t have to go out to bond on some projects
- $25 million for roads and bridges
- $75 million for county departments that oversee law and public safety
- $100,000 additional funds for the senior nutrition program
“For years this Board of Freeholders has promised a no-surprise budget. That continues our conservative and disciplined approach to budgeting. And this year, we continue to keep our pledge,” Kelly said.
Kelly was named liaison to the finance department, replacing long-time budget architect John C. Bartlett Jr., who died on Dec. 12, 2018.
“It’s really a blueprint of what Ocean County is all about,” Freeholder Joseph Vicari said. The budget reflects the importance of quality of life, affordability, and the ability for every student in Ocean County to reach his or her full potential.