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Freeholders Introduce Budget that Cuts Tax Rate, Slashes Spending by $4.3 Million

(Woodbury, NJ)- The Gloucester County Board of Chosen Freeholders introduced the county’s 2011 budget at their meeting last night that called for a $3.9 million reduction in taxes including a 1 cent cut in the county’s tax rate, reducing it to $0.50 down from $0.51.  Freeholder Director Robert M. Damminger said the introduced budget will call for a $4.3 million reduction in spending from last year’s budget.

“The Freeholders have continually cut spending and the county’s tax rate will have been reduced by 10 cents since 2006.  We have eliminated 180 positions since 2008 while taking on important services to our residents and municipalities like EMS and regionalized tax assessing,” said Freeholder Director Damminger. 

Damminger said, “The county’s tax rate will be the lowest it has been since 1967.  While most other counties are facing tax increases, we are going to cut spending and taxes by old fashion hard work and fiscal responsibility.”  Damminger said, “Planning and shared services are the key to doing more with less.  We made a pledge to the taxpayers to cut the tax rate and we are keeping that promise,” said the Director.

Saving $6.5 million in eliminating positions through attrition, saving $1.6 million through a ‘self-insured’ medical program, $1 million in union concessions or layoffs, $.1 million eliminating the health benefits waiver payments to certain employees and $.3 million in non-union employee concessions, and a $4 million cut in operating expenses are some of the Freeholders actions that helped close the $18 million gap faced at the start of the year to reach the goal of cutting the tax rate by 1 cent.

The Freeholder Director said that the county is continuing an ambitious debt service reduction program started in 2010 and is implementing measures to reduce debt by nearly 30% over 7 years.  Damminger said that the county will pay off $23.1 million in debt by the end of the year and introduce a modest capital program that provides for $10.6 million in highway infrastructure improvements with $9 million coming from grants.

Damminger said, “The latest Census shows Gloucester County had the highest percentage population increase in the entire state the last 10 years.  In order to maintain our economic vitality as a region and to meet the demands of our local growth the Freeholders made prudent decisions to complete major projects.” 

Improvements to Route 322, Gloucester County Institute of Technology, Gloucester County College, Gloucester County Special Services School District and the Justice Complex were completed over the past decade to meet the demands of growth and the county’s ability to take advantage of market conditions during a time when manpower and materials and interest rates were low.

Damminger said that the county would not reduce the Open Space Tax, as is being done in other counties to show a cut in the county’s tax rate.  “Farmland preservation and saving open space is important to our residents.” 

Likewise Damminger noted that the county will be using a responsible amount of surplus in the 2011 budget to help offset cost increases, as it has done in previous years.

“There are still several large industrial and commercial tax appeals that are looming.  Gloucester County has been saving money to pay these appeals when the tax court issues their judgments.  This is not a matter of if we will have to pay, but a matter of when.  It would be irresponsible to our taxpayers and to future generations to use more surplus now,” stated Damminger.

According to Moody’s, one of the rating agencies that rank the county’s financial status, the “county benefits from healthy reserves and strong financial management that annually prepares five year projections, ensuring no spikes in property taxes,” and Standard and Poors says, “Financial operations and reserves remain healthy.”

County Treasurer Gary Schwarz noted that to use more of the county’s surplus now to further cut the tax rate could leave the county in a deficit by 2015 and leave the county with no funds to pay the tax appeals. 

Damminger said, “We are fiscally strong in Gloucester County and we won’t jeopardize our taxpayers’ futures with gimmicks.”

The 2011 budget as introduced is $201.9 million compared to 2010’s county budget which was $206.2 million.  It was unanimously approved by the seven member board.  An April 20th adoption date is scheduled.