The Burlington County Commissioners voted to approve a 2022 county budget that continues to fund critical programs and services, while also maintaining the county’s status as the most affordable in the region.
The $230.3 million budget was unanimously approved by the commissioners on April 13, along with the respective library and open space taxes.
The approved spending plan calls for millions less in total appropriations compared to last year’s budget and keeps the county tax levy for government operations flat at $169.7 million, according to information provided after the meeting.
The county Library Tax Levy will remain at $11 million, and the county’s Farmland and Open Space Tax will return to a rate of 2.5 cents per $100 of assessed value. The change equates to about $11 per household and is expected to generate a total of about $12.4 million for the county’s Open Space Trust Fund, which is dedicated to farmland and open space preservation, parks and trails improvements, and other Department of Resource Conservation and Parks programs, according to the statement. The open space tax remains well below the maximum 4 cents per $100 rate authorized by county voters in 2006.
“Responsible government means being good stewards with our residents’ tax dollars, and this budget reflects sound fiscal management,” Burlington County Commissioner Director Dan O’Connell said in the statement. “It also reflects our county’s priorities and values, including a commitment to affordability and maintaining our residents’ quality of life through parks enhancements and the preservation of open space and farmland.”
Burlington County had the lowest average county tax in New Jersey in 2019, 2020 and 2021, according to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA) property tax data.
Last year, Burlington County was one of only three counties where the average county tax decreased, according to the DCA data.
Burlington County also has the lowest cost per resident of any New Jersey county at $367. Bergen was the next closest county at $469 per resident.
“We are proud that we are the lowest-cost county in New Jersey and 24% less than the next lowest. And we expect to continue to be in 2022,” Commissioner Felicia Hopson said in the statement. “This financial record shows how we’ve been able to help keep Burlington County affordable for families and businesses while still responding to their needs, especially with all the challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Preserving quality of life
The county Parks System consists of more than 1,000 acres of developed parkland and more than 50 miles of interconnecting hiking, biking and running trails, plus several fantastic museums and art galleries.
The Parks Division also holds numerous programs and events that highlight the county’s natural resources, history, and diverse arts and culture.
Last year, Burlington County opened a new 5.5-mile segment of the Delaware River Heritage Trail between Bordentown and Florence, and this spring the county will open a new trail at Arney’s Mount in Springfield – Burlington County’s highest elevation – and a new Rancocas Greenway trail connecting Amico Island Park in Delran with Pennington Park in Delanco, according to the statement.
Burlington County also continues to be a national leader in the preservation of farms. More than 63,000 acres of farmland has been preserved here, ranking Burlington County No. 1 in New Jersey for acres preserved and No. 7 in the nation, according to the statement.
“Burlington County has one of America’s best parks systems and we are a national leader in preserving farmland and open space, but more still needs to be done. Every day, we hear about developers targeting more and more land in our area and the outcry from residents concerned about the impacts,” Commissioner Deputy Director Tom Pullion said in the statement. “Restoring our open space rate will give our county the additional resources needed to expand our parks, save more farms and open space and protect the quality of life that is so important here.”
Fiscally responsible planning
The budget’s $169.7 million operations tax levy remains more than $6 million below what Burlington County is authorized to raise under the state’s 2% tax levy cap. It also maintains the county’s workforce and continues to fund critical services and infrastructure, including the county’s COVID-19 response, public safety programs, senior services, workforce development and education, according to the statement.
The county’s annual support for Rowan College at Burlington County, the Burlington County Special Services School District and the Burlington County Institute of Technology is maintained. The spending plan also supports programs that aid the county’s most vulnerable residents, including Meals on Wheels, the Housing Hub and the seniors nutrition program, according to the statement.
The budget calls for the use of $10 million of the county’s $27 million in remaining fund balance from 2021. County officials still anticipate finishing this year with a healthy surplus. Doing so safeguards the county from a prolonged economic downturn and contributes to its strong credit rating.
The county budgeted $7.47 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to offset other revenue losses from the pandemic.
Despite the ongoing challenges from the health crisis, Burlington County’s financial position remained strong, according to Moody’s Investors Services in a report last month that maintained the county’s outstanding Aa1 credit rating, according to the statement.
“Maintaining our stellar bond rating saves Burlington County taxpayers thousands of dollars annually through lower interest and financing rates,” O’Connell said in the statement. “This rating and this budget are a testament to our hard work and sound fiscal management during the COVID-19 pandemic and rising costs. We’re delivering smart and responsive government to our residents and helping to keep Burlington County the most affordable place to live in the region. This is what our residents have come to expect from us, and we are proud to deliver once more.”