Somerset County Freeholders Introduce 2013 Budget

Public Hearing Set for April 11

SOMERVILLE – The Somerset County Board of Freeholders has introduced a frugal 2013 county budget that features some modest revenue increases for the first time in several years.  A public hearing on the proposed budget will be held Thursday, April 11, at 5 p.m. at the county administration building.

“The 2013 budget reflects the same types of tough choices that have been seen in every budget cycle for the last few years,” said Freeholder Robert Zaborowski, county finance chairman. “What makes this year a little bit different is that we believe we may finally be seeing a turnaround in the economic conditions facing the county, and a sign that future budgets may not be left to choose between further cuts in services and raising tax revenues.”

The $214.7-million-dollar budget plan shows an overall increase in spending of $3.7 million, or 1.7 percent, from last year's $210.9-million total. Of this amount, the county’s operating expenses have increased by just $777,978 – or .56 percent. 

“For the first time in several years, we are seeing increases in some of our revenues,” Freeholder Zaborowski said.  “For instance, we believe we’ve seen a turnaround in the overall real estate market:  A 22-percent increase in real estate transactions is contributing to a $2.13-million-dollar increase in county revenues to help offset other cost increases.”

He noted that the county's general economic conditions have improved.  Unemployment has dropped to 6.9 percent from a high of 8 percent in 2009 and 2010.  By comparison, New Jersey’s unemployment rate was 9.3 percent as of December 2012.

Despite the overall improvement, he said, Somerset County continues to face decreasing revenues in many areas, less financial flexibility and ever-increasing demands on services. 

“County government is a service-providing organization,” he said.  “When the economy is not strong, the demand for the services we provide – typically to those on fixed and low-to-moderate incomes – increases.

“We are pleased that spending remains below the 2008 levels, but we need to continue to do more with fewer taxpayer dollars.  This budget reflects that effort by setting priorities, then maintaining critical services and cutting spending in accordance with those priorities.”

The proposed 2013 county budget:

  • Maintains nearly all critical services by fully funding the continued transition to countywide 911 Dispatch, preserving the funding for local volunteer fire departments and volunteer rescue squads and absorbing the Somerset County Police Academy into the County budget.  Six positions have been added in Public Safety Radio as the county continues to expand its shared emergency dispatching to additional towns.
  • Continues funding for all county services to seniors, such as the in-home meals program, the seven congregate senior centers, and programs at the Board of Social Services to help seniors stay in their own homes rather than going into nursing homes.
  • Fully funds all 15 labor agreements with various unions and makes all mandatory contributions to pension and health benefit funds.
  • Reflects mandatory debt payments to pay for the cost of storm cleanups from tropical storms Sandy and Irene.  The cost of capital debt and 2011 and 2012 storm-cleanup costs require an additional $ 2.9 million.
  • Offsets critical services and mandatory increases with further reductions in salary costs and by keeping a check on non-salary expenses. An additional 23 positions, valued at over $900,000, will not be filled in 2013, and an additional $1.02-million-dollars’ worth of budget items won't be funded this year.  Since 2008, the County has trimmed a total of 125 positions, mostly through attrition, and has permanently cut the non-salary portion of the budget by nearly $5.4 million.
  • Allows the county to continue all shared services; to meet ongoing commitments to help municipalities reduce their own reliance on property taxes; and to maintain critical programs to help the county’s most vulnerable citizens. 

“This budget requires some shared sacrifices on everybody's part,” Freeholder Zaborowski said. “Our department and division heads continued to find ways of offsetting costs with the aim of preserving services and programs. We've again asked all outside agencies and departments to do the same.

“Most importantly, we've continued a long-standing practice of integrity and transparency in this budget.  There are no gimmicks or one-shot revenues used to make this budget work,” he emphasized.  “Although there are no guarantees, this 2013 budget is built upon decisions that we feel are sustainable over time. This budget also continues a long-standing tradition of not drawing down the county surplus account for the sake of budgetary convenience.”

"The 2013 budget once again reflects an extremely detailed examination of all the components of the county’s spending,” said Freeholder Patricia Walsh, finance committee vice chair.  “Hard choices needed to be made between services and operations that are crucial to our residents, and divisions and programs that are incredibly valuable, but not absolutely critical. Hundreds of line items in all of our departments were reviewed and 24 of our 59 department, program or division budgets have been cut by a total of $1,675,709 to help minimize any tax increase.”

2013 Budget Presentation – PDF

2013 Budget As Introduced – PDF