HUNTERDON COUNTY, NJ - The 2020 Hunterdon County Budget of $89.35 million was unanimously approved May 19, following a public hearing, with no public comments on the budget, and after several key fiscal strategy points were highlighted by the Board of Chosen Freeholders and county CFO Janet Previte.
Hunterdon County has had zero debt since 2014, and the budget is tax cap compliant.
Revenues and appropriations are $89,348,220. The total amount to be raised by the county tax levy for 2020 is $69,185,553.35.
For FY2020, the budget includes a fund balance of $11,330,000 as revenue.
The county’s auditing firm had checked through and signed off on the budget, and, without needing amendments, the budget was approved by the New Jersey Division of Local Government Services.
“The county tax rate of 31.5 cents per $100 of assessed value keeps flat from last year," Previte said. “We’re continuing on our conservative path to fund our capital projects programs on a pay-as-you-go basis. No debt service is budgeted. For 2020, there will be $10.5 million in capital expenditures, per budget.”
Freeholder J. Matthew Holt spoke about the budget development process as he and freeholder director Shaun C. Van Doren worked with Previte and department heads in reviewing county financial allocations. Before speaking about efforts in fiscal frugality among county officials and divisions, he noted that Hunterdon County’s Facebook page has received many positive comments related to the budget, and the new, impromptu way of holding the public hearing by teleconference may be correlated to more messaging posted on social media.
While no residents commented during the teleconference, many notes and thoughts on the budget were put online.
Freezing the tax rate for Hunterdon residents and businesses was noted by the board as a contributing factor for what they hope is an economic recovery period in the months ahead.
“The tax rate remains flat, frozen and the same as last year, there is no other county in New Jersey that can make that same claim and this is a remarkable achievement,” Holt said. “When we started work on the 2020 budget, it was late 2019, and we all thought coronavirus was a flu taking place across the globe in China. Certainly over the past few months, the world and the nation, our state and our county and every municipality have seen a lot of changes at times, and this definitely affected the budget development process, nearly at the very last moment. Nonetheless, this budget is $10 million less from a nearly $100 million budget we had over 10 years ago, a delta of over $40 million from what we would have had now if we had done what so many municipalities and counties do and raise taxes at 2 percent per year.”
According to Previte, establishment of a cap bank is considered a best practice to manage county finances over the next two budget years, 2021 and 2022.
“You can imagine that in this climate of uncertainty that maintaining flexibility on budgeting is very important,” she said. “The adoption of the resolution allows the county to increase its in-cap appropriations by 3.5 percent instead of the state established 2 percent tax levy cap. We are not using any cap bank for 2020, but this resolution permits the unused amount to be banked for use in either of the following two budget years.”
Van Doren said the key to holding the tax rate frozen for now two years in a row, at the 2018 level, is a key part of the county’s plan for an economic recovery while meeting all mandated and necessary services for county residents and businesses, “efficiently and effectively.”
“Holding the tax rate flat is a result of the conservative, business-like philosophy of this and past Hunterdon County Freeholder Boards,” he said. “Controlling costs as well as the tax rate remain accepted goals for our departments, with a dedicated financial control system overseen by county finance. The county’s 2020 budget is another exceptional achievement on the resume of CFO Previte’s work in county finances. To hold the tax rate flat for a second consecutive year while also providing funding and support in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a singularly tremendous achievement by this freeholder board, our CFO, department heads and employees. I extend my thanks again to all our department heads for their willingness to reexamine their initial budget proposals to find savings in their units in order to accommodate the increase in funds needed for our emergency response actions.”
Following the budget hearing and approval, the county approved $6.607 million to be raised through taxes supporting county open space, recreation, farmland and historic preservation, as well as $6.359 million to be raised from county taxes for the 2020 operating budget of the Hunterdon County Library. Both rates are flat from last year.
Deputy Freeholder Director Sue Soloway thanked Previte and budget committee members Holt and Van Doren on their work on the 2020 county budget.
“When I joined the board in January 2019, I said then at the reorganization meeting that my priority goal is to hold the costs of government in check because I believe tax dollars are precious and must be used effectively, efficiently and sparingly," she said. “For the board to hold the tax rate steady for the second year in a row demonstrates that we continue to achieve that goal. I believe it is a powerful action by the freeholder board to do our part to help in the economic recovery from the pandemic.”