BUDGET APPROVED BY COUNTY FREEHOLDERS

Cape May County Freeholders approved the county’s 2011 budget at their meeting on March 8, 2011.  The budget calls for a tax rate increase slightly less than one cent making the new rate eighteen cents.

The 2011 county budget is $143.7 million reflecting an increase of $1.8 million.  The county tax levy rose from $92.4 million to $93.7 million.  Balancing the budget uses $12.1 million of the county’s $24.2 million surplus.

The county saw its revenues from real estate transfer fees reduced for the fifth straight year to under $4 million.  This is almost $6 million less than 2005 when the transfer fees were their most active.  Adding to the financial difficulties, the county ratable base dramatically fell for the second straight year.  The value of county properties was reduced by $1.9 billion.  The county also witnessed the fourth straight year of a loss in interest on investments with a staggering thirty-five percent reduction.  Just four years ago the county earned $3.2 million in interest.  This year it earned just over $200,000.

Despite the gloomy revenue side of the budget, the Freeholders were pleased that they kept a tax rate increase so low.   Freeholder Director Daniel Beyel said, “With all our revenues significantly down as well as another year of a staggering loss in ratables made this a challenging budget to develop. But this budget represents the second year of a careful and comprehensive review of county operations to cope with these unprecedented difficult economic times.”

Beyel noted that the county’s proactive approach allowed the county to make significant cuts to keep the low tax rate increase.  “In our assessment of county operations, we have made changes in delivering services that are more efficient and less costly.  These changes have allowed us to keep our budget and tax levy less than one and a half percent.  By expanding shared services, redirecting some county operations to the private sector and maintaining a rigid attrition program, the county reduced the workforce 70 full-time positions in the last two years with an estimated annual savings of $3.5 million,” Beyel said.

The Freeholders are hoping the county’s proposal to extend the current labor agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees will avoid the budgeted layoffs of 30 to 35 employees.  Beyel said, “Eight of our nine bargaining units have agreed to extend their labor agreements to avoid layoffs.  The Freeholder Board is hoping that the county’s largest union will do the same”.

Beyel concluded, “Despite the decline in our revenues and severe loss in our ratable base,   the county’s entire budget increase is less than one and a half percent and I anticipate that the new tax rate of eighteen cents will remain the lowest in the state”.

The 2011 budget is accessible on the county website at capemaycountygov.net.

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