NEWARK, NJ – A budget of $725.9 million that will stabilize Essex County’s financial plan and address the challenges due to the ongoing national economic conditions was recently presents by Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr.
According to DiVincenzo, layoffs have been avoided since 2004 and budgets have been unveiled before the state’s statutory deadline of Jan. 15 for 15 consecutive years.
“Every year we are faced with a variety of challenges that affect our county,” he said. “By starting our planning process early and presenting our budget by the Jan. 15 statutory deadline, we are able to create a strong groundwork and sound financial plan for our Department and Division Directors and Constitutional Officers to follow throughout the year.”
DiVincenzo added that presenting the budget by Jan. 15 is important because it gives the county’s municipal partners and constituents a clear snapshot of what to expect from the county. He also said that it is his goal to have Essex County’s bond rating elevated to a AAA rating. Its current bond rating is Aa1, according to DiVincenzo, which is the highest it has been in modern times.
The county executive pointed out that his administration monitors the budget throughout the year and started preparing the 2018 budget in June 2017. Getting an early start enabled Department and Division Directors, Constitutional Officers and County agencies to identify and address issues, investigate ways to reduce expenses and generate new revenue, and have a plan in place by the statutory deadline.
“This rigorous planning and constant vigilance has helped us to respond proactively when we are faced with challenges brought on by the national economy, unexpected events or new laws,” DiVincenzo said.
The 2018 budget proposal maintains the county executive’s initiative to stabilize the county budget and strengthen the county’s finances.
Some highlights include the following:
- Several Essex County facilities continue to generate recurring revenue through shared service agreements with other government agencies. The Essex County Correctional Facility is anticipated to generate $35.7 million in revenue by housing federal inmates, immigration detainees and inmates from Gloucester County; the Essex County Hospital Center is anticipated to generate $17.3 million in revenue through reimbursements from the State for admitting patients from the State, Passaic County and Middlesex County; and the Juvenile Detention Facility is anticipated to generate $2.5 million by accepting juvenile detainees from Passaic County.
- The Essex County Parks Department is anticipated to generate about $15.4 million in revenue from admissions and user fees.
- About $25 million in fund balance is being used as revenue in the 2018 budget. In addition, because of savings in the previous budget, the total fund balance will increase to about $78.7 million. This reserve helps the county respond to emergencies, displays fiscal stability to bond rating agencies and has helped improve the county’s cash flow and avoid taking out Tax Anticipation Notes for the last four years. (When DiVincenzo took office in 2003, the previous administration left a budget deficit of $64 million.)
- Over the last seven years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to about 1.65 percent, which is under the state cap of 2 percent.
- Over the last 16 years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to about 2.5 percent, which is the fifth-lowest percentage rate of increase of all New Jersey counties behind Hunterdon, Monmouth, Burlington and Somerset counties.
- In 2007, DiVincenzo implemented an initiative to stabilize the county’s debt service by refinancing existing debt without extending its maturity date and limiting the amount of new debt to a maximum of $20 million annually. In 2018, the debt service payment is $111.8 million, which will be reduced to just $37.3 million in 2026.
In addition, open positions have been unfilled, unless they are essential to public safety and public health operations. This includes positions such as nurses at the Hospital Center or Corrections Officers at the Correctional Facility.
Under DiVincenzo’s leadership over the last 16 years, Essex County’s workforce has been reduced from a high of almost 4,000 employees in 2003 to 3,550 in the 2018 budget proposal.
The DiVincenzo administration has worked hard since 2003 to eliminate the structural budget deficit and ensure that Essex does not spend more than the revenue it collects. Austere budgeting, downsizing the workforce, eliminating unnecessary contracts and practicing conservative spending have strengthened Essex County’s financial position, raised its bond rating and restored the county’s fiscal health, according to the county executive.
Essex’s bond rating has improved 16 times and is now an Aa1 with a Stable Financial Outlook by Moody’s Investors Services and an AA-plus rating by Fitch Ratings. Both are one step away from the highest rating available.
The 2018 budget proposal has been forwarded to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders for review.