The Burlington County Board of Commissioners are keeping both the county library tax levy and open space and farmland preservation tax rate flat this year, along with a final 2021 county budget that continues to fund critical services and respond to residents’ needs without resorting to tax increases.
The county budget and respective library levy and open space tax rate were approved unanimously during a meeting on April 14, and call for a combined tax levy of about $190 million.
The combined levy is unchanged from 2020 and includes $169.7 million for county operations, $11 million for the Burlington County Library System and $9.9 million for open space and farmland preservation operations, according to information provided by the board.
The farmland and open space tax rate will remain at 2 cents per $100 of equalized valuation for a second consecutive year. The commissioners voted to cut the rate from 3 cents to 2 cents per $100 in 2020 to provide residents with property tax relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While the economic outlook has brightened considerably from a year ago, we know the crisis has not yet ended and that many families and small businesses are still struggling,” Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson said in the statement. “Our county is still in recovery so our Board was determined not to add to our residents’ tax burdens. At the same time, we’re very proud that we’re able to continue delivering the critical services and assistance that families and businesses need.”
Burlington County had the lowest county taxes in New Jersey in 2019 and 2020, according to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs property tax data, and the lowest cost per resident of any county.
This year’s county budget includes $233 million in total appropriations and continues the county’s effective COVID-19 response, including the Health Department testing and contact tracing programs and monthly food distribution events overseen by the Department of Human Services, according to the statement.
Burlington County was one of the first counties in the state to set up a COVID-19 testing program and is its also now partnering with the State of New Jersey, Virtua Health and the New Jersey National Guard to operate the Burlington County Vaccine Mega-Site at the Moorestown Mall, where more than 200,000 people have received vaccine, according to the statement.
The budget also maintains programs critical for the county’s most vulnerable residents, including the Meals on Wheels and Senior Nutrition programs and the Housing Hub and Recovery Center at the Human Services Building in Westampton.
County support for Rowan College at Burlington County, the Burlington County Special Services School District and Burlington County Institute of Technology is also continued.
Open space and library services
The open space and farmland tax, along with additional revenues and reserves, will support $12 million in budgeted appropriations for the county Department of Resource Conservation and Parks activities, including department salaries and debt service for parks development and improvements, according to the statement.
The county has already developed more than 1,000 acres of parkland in 12 public parks and more than 50 miles of hiking, biking and running trails, and several additional projects are in the works or near completion.
Those projects include a 5.5-mile segment of the Delaware River Heritage Trail and a 2.2-mile loop around Arney’s Mount in Springfield, which is the highest point in Burlington County.
The county is also expecting to completed the preservation of several farms, adding to the more than 62,000 acres of farmland already preserved. Currently, Burlington County is ranked No. 1 in New Jersey for acres of farmland preserved and No. 7 in the nation, according to the statement.
“The best parks system in New Jersey became even better last year when we opened Willingboro Lakes as our newest county park, and we have a number of other big trail projects nearing completion this year,” Hopson said in the statement. “We know how important it is to maintain agriculture in this county and for our residents to have safe outdoor spaces to escape to and enjoy so we’re pleased this budget continues our commitment to farmland preservation and parks stewardship and programming. We’ll also continue to aggressively pursue grant funding for additional trails and parks expansions.
The $11 million library tax levy will maintain resources, programs and services provided by the Burlington County Library System’s branch and member libraries.
“Our libraries are amazing places and the pandemic has revealed just how essential the libraries and its programs are to our communities and residents,” Commissioner Deputy Director Dan O’Connell said in the statement. “This year we celebrate the library system’s 100th anniversary and its status as New Jersey’s first county library. It’s a fantastic story and our entire board is proud to support the system’s ongoing mission.”