TOMS RIVER – For the fourth year in a row, the county’s proposed tax rate will drop. The Board of Ocean County Chosen Freeholders introduced its $450,793,747 spending plan during their latest meeting.
Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari said, “We are talking about a blueprint to operate Ocean County for the next year. The good news is we will not cut back on services and we will drop your tax rate.”
The budget includes a proposed county property tax rate of 33.7 cents per $100 of an equalized value. Each of the county’s 33 municipalities will experience that rate differently to allow for the tax burden to be equitably distributed. The state administers a formula to equalize its impact. The amount to be raised by taxation is $361,536,722. The total budget represents an increase of $18.8 million from last year.
Freeholder Jack Kelly, the liaison of finances for the county oversaw the development of the budget which was prepared by the county’s financial staff and included input from each Freeholder on the board.
“This is the second budget I have overseen with my colleagues and our county staff and it’s not an easy process,” he said. Kelly noted that the budget was made available for viewing on the county website.
This year’s tax rate was reduced by a half a cent which marked the fourth consecutive year that the tax rate has gone down. “This ties in to an important pledge we made to our citizens following Superstorm Sandy in October of 2012. That storm resulted in a staggering loss of property values totaling more than $11 billion. This board promised then and now as we see the tax ratables grow we will continue to reduce the county tax rate,” he said.
The ratable base is the total valuation of all county property. It’s all the buildings and all the land added together. It increases as buildings are developed.
“This year our ratable tax rate stands at $107 billion which is $4 billion more than last year’s total of $103 billion. We anticipate that growth will continue in the future and we truly believe that next year for the first time, since 2009 we will completely replace all the loss of Hurricane Sandy and probably a little more. I can say with some confidence that the tax rate in Ocean County will continue to go down,” Kelly said.
The budget was said to feature a “very healthy surplus while using $36.8 million this year we have left appropriate reserves for future budgets,” Kelly added, saying a strong surplus is key in maintaining Ocean County’s AAA bond rating which allows the county to secure historically low interest rates on its debt service. This year the county will be saving $2 million in debt service due to the rating and refunding bonds.
Kelly explained that refunding bonds is no different than refinancing a home mortgage at a better interest rate. “This budget funds all of our core and essential programs that we provide to the over 600,000 people that call Ocean County home. Like all our budgets, we will continue to meet the required 2% state mandated spending cap.”
Around $129 million has been put aside this year to finance 29 construction projects that are slated to be finished over the next three years. They include the building of a new Ocean County Board of Social Services complex in Toms River in the amount of $47.1 million, the replacement of the Colonial Drive South Bridge and North Bridge in Manchester at a price tag of $5 million and construction of T-shaped hangars at the Robert J. Miller Airpark in Berkeley Township at $3 million. Waretown will also see the $2 million renovation of Wells Mills Nature Center.
The budget earmarks $74.3 million for law enforcement in the county, $25.5 million to maintain roads and bridges in the county and $20. 2 million to be used for social activities that will see $39.2 million expected to be added by the state and federal governments.
Board members noted that $19.6 million would go the Ocean County Vocational Technical School district, $16 million for Ocean County College and $7 million for parks and recreation.
As Ocean County has the largest senior population in the state, it was noted that $3.5 million would go toward senior services, with an $4.2 million more expected from the state and federal governments.
The board voted unanimously to approve the budget’s introduction. The Board’s March 18 meeting, which will include a public hearing and adoption of the budget, will start at 4 p.m. and will be held in the first-floor meeting room of the Ocean County Administration Building at 101 Hooper Ave. Toms River.