Ocean County officials said the tax rate would drop slightly in 2019, reflecting the continued recovery of the region from the crushing blow to its tax base following Superstorm Sandy.
The county’s tax base rose by about $3 billion between the 2018 and 2019, largely reflective of higher-value homes being built post-Sandy. Fulfilling a promise made by the late Freeholder John C. Bartlett, the current board announced a budget that reduces the tax rate by a half-cent per $100 in assessed real estate valuation – making the tax rate for this year $0.342.
“As we continue to see a moderate increase in our ratable base, we are keeping our promise to lower our property tax rate in reasonable increments,” said Freeholder Jack Kelly, who took over development of the county budget from Bartlett, who died in February. “This is a no-surprise budget.”
While the tax rate will decrease, the new ratables will allow for expenditures to rise from $416,092,260 last year to $431,967,263 in 2019. The total amount to be raised by taxes will rise by about $7 million, funded through new construction and the more valuable tax base. The remainder is funded through outside sources, such as federal and state funding, as well as grants.
The budget includes numerous increases in some departments, aimed mainly at education and programs to combat the opioid addiction crisis that has hit the county hard. Ocean County College will receive $15,071,682 in funding this year, an increase of $454,418. The county’s Vocational-Technical school district will receive $19,011,166 from the county, an increase of $372,768.
The Law and Public Safety Department will receive $72,895,363, which includes the undertaking of a major project to move communications to the 700 MHz band, allowing for less interference from other devices using the present frequency.
About $20 million will go to social services while senior services will receive $2.5 million.
One of the most visible aspects of county government, road and bridge maintenance, will see a $24,852,628 expenditure from the operations budget this year, not counting tens of millions more that will be funded through capital means in a separate budget to be adopted later in the year.
“I think it’s a great budget, and it’s providing the services our residents need, combined with the capital projects we need for our infrastructure,” said Freeholder Director Virginia Haines.
Notably, for the first year since Superstorm Sandy, the county will fund $9.3 million in “pay-as-you-grow” projects – improvements to roads and infrastructure paid directly from the operating budget to avoid extra borrowing. Officials said the spending plan will allow Ocean County to maintain its ‘AAA’ bond rating, a rarity among New Jersey oft-strapped governmental units.
“It’s a fiscally responsible budget that I think is a model for the state,” said Freeholder Gerry P. Little.
The memory of Bartlett, as is often the case since he left the board to fight his final battle with cancer, was on the minds of all the officials in the county meeting room Wednesday.
“He’s looking down very proudly,” said Freeholder Gary Quinn, who succeeded Bartlett. “It’s great to be able to reduce taxes in this day and age for the residents of the county.”