County Budget Calls For Tax Increase

UNION COUNTY – The Freeholder Board introduced a $437.7 million budget last week which calls for an average $68 increase per household in county taxes.

Mandated costs, such as salaries, health insurance and pensions had largely contributed to a $26 million deficit, which was subsequently cut in half to $13.074 million through the Budget Committee and Finance Department.

“The committee explored areas that were problematic to the budget—including our golf courses, our jail, and Runnells,” Freeholder Alex Mirabella said. “We also conducted a department by department review that included an analysis of health and insurance costs, which we were able to reduce.”

The reduction in the tax levy was accomplished in the following areas:

• Insurance — A savings of $1.3 million over anticipated cost was realized through health benefit reforms and negotiations with insurers.

• Social Security and Sick Leave — A savings of $750,000 was realized over anticipated costs in part by holding the line on salaries and hirings.

• Union County Vocational-Technical Schools — A savings of $322,740 was realized, as the Vo-Tech schools system obtained additional funding through the State of New Jersey.

The cuts reduced the average tax increase from $82 to $68 per household.

Overall, the 2008 budget maintains the county’s commitment to funding popular county services such as meals on wheels, road repavings and infrastructure improvements, paratransit, our Vo-Tech School, Homeland Security, the Sheriff’s Office, the Prosecutor’s office, the county parks system, and child safety seat inspections.

County Manager George W. Devanney also proposed in his 2008 executive budget address several other fiscal reforms aimed at providing relief in the budget, which were also adopted by the committee.

The measures included the delay of salary increases for all exclusionary county employees until July 1st this year, anticipated to save $650,000. Second, county exclusionary employees will be asked to contribute more to their health plans, reflecting current State practice. This measure was anticipated to offset costs by as much as $350,000.

The Budget Committee also examined proposals to maximize operations and efficiencies at the county’s three golf courses—Ash Brook in Scotch Plains, Galloping Hill in Kenilworth/Union, and Oak Ridge in Clark, which incurred a loss of approximately $500,000 last year.

The 2008 budget also funds a number of improvements at the Union County Jail, including:

• Authorization to hire a total of 51 corrections officers this year. Not only will this help improve operations at the facility, but it will reduce overtime.

• A phase I installation of additional cameras at a cost of $800,000.

• The installation of additional razor wire around the jail’s perimeter and sub-roofs, costing $56,000.

A new director with more than 20 years of corrections experience was also hired following a nationwide search, and the county’s administrative code was amended in order to create a Department of Corrections to increase accountability at the jail.

Finally, the committee turned its attention to Runnells Specialized Hospital, announcing a plan and expansion which could allow the hospital to become totally self-sustaining by 2010.

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