By Tom Arnone
Last week the 2022 Monmouth County budget was introduced during the March 8 meeting of the Board of County Commissioners. The introduced budget is $474.1 million for 2022 and once again there is no tax increase for the residents of Monmouth County.
It is interesting to note that compared to the 2010 county budget, which peaked at $493.4 million, the 2022 budget is still $19.3 million lower than it was 12 years ago.
How has the Board of County Commissioners been able to control spending and stabilize taxes during this period of time?
In 2010 the county spent $173.6 million on salaries and wages, and in 2021 the county spent $171 million. That amounts to a $2.6 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.
After sale of the county care centers, we also 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 in to balanced operations. We lowered the use of fund balance to be a more realistic number.
To accomplish this goal, we used a common approach to use what we can realistically regenerate. Since 2010, through these efforts, we have provided almost $42 million in tax relief to our constituents through strategic use of our reserves.
The year 2021 marked the first time since 2012 that we regenerated more than we used, yielding our goal of balanced operations.
The county was able to balance the budget in 2022 with no impact on taxes, while dealing with state mandated cost increases of almost $1.9 million in pension costs and $700,000 in elections costs, $6 million in health benefits, $1.5 million in fuel and $3.5 million in capital financing costs, as well as various revenue losses.
In the last 12 years, this board has held taxes flat seven times, and in the other five years combined there was a net increase of $4.5 million, with 2016 being a tax decrease. Our tax rate had decreased every year since 2014 and is projected to be 3 cents lower than it was in 2010, and 1.73 cents lower than 2021.
The county has been and will continue to be in full compliance with both the long-standing 1977 tax levy cap, as well as the more recently 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 tax levy for 2022 could have been as high as $330.6 million while still complying with the cap laws, but the board worked hard to introduce a budget with a tax levy for 2022 of $311.5 million, or $19.1 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 2022. Instead, my colleagues and I work throughout the entire year to efficiently run our departments while keeping costs down.
I already look forward to working on the 2023 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 County Commissioners. The county budget is supported by property owners and residents in Monmouth County’s 53 municipalities.