The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders last night adopted the 2017 Middlesex County Operating Budget. The $458.4 million gross operating budget reflects the Freeholder Board’s focus on enhancing quality programs and services that are affordable to our taxpayers and on increasing operational efficiencies.
The 2017 budget represents a less than 1 cent increase in the tax rate to taxpayers. That amounts to an increase of about $20 per household per year.
“The budget illustrates this Board’s commitment to its residents, as it continues to provide quality programs and services despite federal and state funding cuts and keeps our expenses in check,” said Freeholder Leslie Koppel, chair of the County’s Finance Committee.
Freeholder Director Ronald G. Rios said: “Be assured: The Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders has been able to reduce costs and generate new revenue so we did not have to cut our services due to the increased costs and funding cuts from the State and Federal levels of government.”
Rios said the County’s costs to continue to provide mental health care for residents will increase by $1 million “due to the inability of the State to manage the costs of its mental health facilities.”
He said State grant funding for MCAT transportation services was cut for the ninth consecutive year, bringing the total funding reduction for this critical service to more than $1.5 million over that time.
Rios also said the State’s Bail Reform and a Speedy Trial initiative is costing Middlesex County more than $1.9 million this year alone.
“Once again, the State is passing down to the counties the costs of a program it is mandating. I had meetings and numerous conversations with the executive director of the New Jersey Association of Counties, and I had a conference call with our Middlesex County legislative delegation to alert them to how this will negatively impact our residents. I will continue to work with them and fight to establish a funding mechanism for this unfunded mandate.”
To offset the cuts, Rios said the County continues to increase its portfolio of Shared Services agreements with neighboring counties to be more efficient in Middlesex County and to expand these efficiencies and cost savings to the surrounding region.
“About $6.8 million is being saved regionally because we are centralizing medical examiner and juvenile detention services here,” Rios said. In addition to the savings, he said: “The Medical Examiner regionalization is generating $2.6 million in revenue for Middlesex County from our agreements with Monmouth and Mercer counties. In the area of juvenile services, we are generating $4.4 million from our agreements with Somerset, Monmouth and Mercer counties.”
Rios said the County also is expanding its Shared Service programs for fire inspection services to all municipalities within the County.
The County continues to maintain its Triple A bond rating, which it has held for 16 years. This is crucial to its Capital Improvement Master Plan, through which more than $50 million will be invested in 2017 for critical projects, such as road reconstruction, bridge repairs and facilities and technology upgrades, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the residents.
“Our excellent bond rating enables us to complete these projects at lower costs," Rios said.
Koppel said Middlesex County is the first County in the State to adopt its budget for 2017.
“That’s good news for our residents, as we will be able to offer our full complement of quality services at the earliest possible time,” she said.