County introduces budget with 1.75 percent tax hike

UNION COUNTY, NJ — The county freeholders introduced a preliminary budget of about $483.7 million on April 26, which would raise the county tax levy by 1.75 percent on an average house.

An early version of the 2018 executive budget totalled about $489 million, but was reduced after an ad hoc efficiency committee reviewed the numbers.

“This was done without any loss of jobs, reduction of services or negative impact on our stellar bond rating,” said Freeholder Bruce Bergen, who also chairs the board’s Fiscal Committee. “This board is now in a position to adopt a budget with the lowest tax increase in at least 15 years.”
The dollar amount of the average house assessed at $163,500 will not be released until the budget is approved by the state, county spokesman Sebastian D’Elia said.

Last year, the county received about $512 million in revenue, but only spent about $497.6 million, records show. There was a surplus of about $22 million in last year’s budget, which is expected to increase to about $24 million this year.

Some of the largest spending increases in this year’s budget were in the areas of health insurance for employees, public safety, recreation, education and retirement funds.

For example, the group health insurance plan for county employees is slated to increase by $2.375 million in this year’s budget. The county spokesman said the rise was due to “increased costs for health insurance, plus we’ll be soliciting quote for a new contract year effective July 1.”
Cuts and increases were made in the area of public safety, with one of the highest increases going to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office. Between salaries and operating costs, the office would receive an additional $475,000 in funding this year for a total of about $24 million.

Payments to the employees’ retirement system would see an increase of about $1 million this year, totalling about $15.5 million, while the police and firemen’s retirement fund would see an increase of about $340,000.

Decreases in spending were made in operational costs across the board and in salaries for the division of facilities management. Salaries would decrease by about $730,000, while the operating budget would increase by about $217,000.

Public hearings on the budget have been held in Kenilworth, Scotch Plains and Elizabeth. A final hearing will be held May 17, at 7 p.m. in Elizabeth before a vote is taken on the spending plan.