Middlesex County budget holds line on taxes, enhances quality services

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The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted the 2016 Middlesex County Operating Budget on March 3, a $439.5 million gross operating budget that reflects the board’s focus on enhancing quality programs and services that are affordable to taxpayers and on increasing operational efficiencies.

The 2016 budget represents a less than 1 cent increase in the tax rate to taxpayers. That amounts to an increase of about $20 per household per year, according to a statement prepared by the freeholders.

The budget is 2 percent higher than last year’s budget, continuing an 8-year-long trend of producing budgets with minimal increases.

“We are able to do this because this freeholder board and those of the past several years made the commitment to do business better,” said Freeholder Charles Kenny, chair of the county’s Finance Committee. “The proof is in our long-standing AAA bond rating, which has saved us $35 million over the past 15 years.”

Kenny added, “[The proof] is in the elimination of using surplus funds to balance the budget for an unprecedented five years in a row, which helps us retain the coveted bond rating and enables us to be prepared to cover the costs of emergencies, such as superstorm Sandy.”

Kenny said staff has been reduced through attrition only due to the use of new technology and streamlined business processes.

In his remarks, he said the county’s operating expenses increased by 2.1 percent year over year.

“The main drivers in the $8.77 million increase in the gross operating budget include health insurance and pension costs and the amount the state charges us for mental health care, all increases out of the county’s control,” he said.

The county balanced those increases with savings in real estate rental costs by moving offices into county-owned buildings, increasing the use of solar energy and investing in clean energy solutions to power our facilities. The county also eliminated the central warehouse.

Through the county’s first-in-the-state Debt Service Policy, it has refinanced higher debt. Debt service was decreased by over $3.4 million in 2016. The gross debt decreased by more than $47.4 million this year alone. Over the past two years, the total gross debt was decreased by over 25 percent or $172.8 million.

“Middlesex County has done what the state or federal governments have not: we have controlled our spending. We have reduced our debt. We have maintained a Triple A bond rating. And, most importantly, we have continued to offer the quality programs that our residents need and deserve,” said Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios.

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