FLEMINGTON, NJ – The Hunterdon Freeholders approved the county’s $88.491 million buget for 2019 at their meeting on Monday, and they didn’t hesitate to tout that the tax rate to support it will remain unchanged.
“The 2019 budget … is $330,000 less than the 2013 budget,” said Freeholder Director Suzanne Lagay. “What else in anyone’s life is less costly now than it was six years ago?”
Freeholder Matt Holt said the budget – which he called “an exceptional document” – is $12 million less “than the almost $100 million budget that existed 12 years ago.”
“I believe there is no other county in New Jersey that can make that claim,” Holt said, adding that the budget has “no debt service, no payments for bonds, no payments for bond anticipation notes, no interest (costs), and it hasn’t had any for the past five years. We’ve been debt-free.”
The county tax rate will remain the same for the fourth time in the last five years, Holt said.
Under the plan, total revenue is up just .165 percent from last year’s $88.345 million budget.
How has the county been able to hold the line on expenses?
The official press release issued by the county doesn't really answer that question. But at Monday's public hearing, Lagay said that while it takes hard work, she acknowledged that when she and Freeholder John Lanza joined the Board in 2014, “We had a really dysfunctional finance department. We were mired in expenditures, we had poor internal controls at that time, and the audits were rife with findings.”
News reports on some of the problems – which included the county paying insurance premiums for employees who had died – and litigation related to the issues “were well justified,” she said. But after bringing in county CFO Director Janet Previte “we began to turn that ship around,” Lagay said. “The rest is history.”
Those better controls help the county “make better strategic decisions,” she said. “So we can continue to expand grow … without having the budget getting out of control.”
Here are a few highlights of the budget:
- It includes a $9.8 million surplus.
- Although some question whether the county-owned Heron Glen golf course is profitable, the budget shows $1.45 million in revenue from Heron Glen in 2019, down about 10.34 percent from last year’s $1.6 million.
- The Freeholders’ goal of economic growth is reflected in the budget for its Office of Economic Development. Its $218,000 in salaries is up more than 62 percent from last year’s $134,000. And the budget includes $203,430 for its expenses this year.
- For open space, the budget allocates $1.491 million for acquisitions and development easements, and $2.57 million for “open space projects and improvements.”
The full budget is posted to the county’s website.