Monmouth freeholders work to hold line on county spending

By Tom Arnone

The 2019 Monmouth County budget was approved during the March 18 meeting of the
Board of Freeholders. The adopted budget is $449.6 million, for comparison, in 2010 the
county budget peaked at $493.4 million, before its steady descent to $449.6 million in 2019, a decrease of $43.8 million.

In 2010, the county spent $173.6 million on salaries and wages, and in 2018 the county spent $166.8 million. That amounts to a $6.8 million reduction in payroll spending while providing salary increases to our employees in each of those years, and maintaining services. This can be credited to an aggressive approach to vacancies and the provision of services including job consolidation, shared services and outsourcing.

The county made a conscious decision to draw down on reserves or fund balance in the short term to provide taxpayer relief while implementing a plan to ultimately bring the county back into balanced operations.

We lowered the use of fund balance to be a more realistic number. To accomplish this we used an approach of using what we are already regenerating. The county did our best to close this gap as much as possible with little impact on taxes, but when dealing with state mandated cost increases of $2.2 million and other revenue losses, there was no other choice in 2019 than to close the remaining $1.5 million with a modest tax increase.

Without the increase in pension costs the tax increase would not have been necessary, and in fact could have resulted in a small tax decrease like we did in 2016 after the sale of the county care centers.

It should also be noted that the county has complied with both the long-standing 1977 tax levy cap, as well as the newly enacted 2010 tax levy cap and in fact has raised taxes far less than the cap laws would have allowed the county to raise taxes.

The county is required to calculate both caps and to operate under whichever one is more restrictive. The county tax levy for 2019 could have been as high as $314.1 million while still complying with the cap laws. The county adopted a tax levy for 2019 of $305.5 million, or $8.6 million under the permitted cap.

As I have said many times before, we do not start working on the budget in the early months of 2019. Instead, my colleagues and I work throughout the entire year to efficiently run our departments while keeping costs down.

I am already looking forward to working on the 2020 budget and I am certain I will begin meeting with our finance team in the upcoming weeks.

Tom Arnone is the director of the Monmouth County Board of Freeholders, the county’s governing body.