UNION COUNTY, NJ — (Updated at 1:32 p.m. April 21) The Union County Freeholders are anticipated to introduce a 2020 spending plan Thursday that keeps taxes flat and avoids layoffs, the county announced.

Freeholder Fiscal Committee Chairman Sergio Granados said his committee found a middle ground that funds the county’s response to coronavirus and avoids staffing cuts while creating a “zero percent increase.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a Catch-22 situation for our residents and all governing agencies,” Granados said in the news release. “Unemployment has surged, revenue sources have been greatly diminished, while funding is needed to respond to the pandemic and assist our residents and business owners.”

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Officials are slated to present the spending plan at the freeholders’ Thursday meeting to start at 5 p.m. and be streamed live on the freeholders’ website, the release said.

In 2019, the owner of the typical Westfield home assessed at $795,159 paid $3,936 in county taxes, according to the county’s abstract of ratables. The total property tax bill on the typical Westfield home in that year stood at $17,096.

The budget is anticipated to reflect reductions in spending from what was laid out in the county’s 2020 executive budget, Sebastian D’Elia, spokesman for the county, said.

While the news release does not specify how officials achieved the savings, D’Elia said, those details are anticipated to be discussed at Thursday’s meeting.

Because of the way the state apportions property taxes, he noted, a flat county budget does not always directly translate to a zero increase on the county tax bill for residents of each municipality.

"Sometimes a zero can mean a slight increase, sometimes a tax reduction, and sometimes a flat tax depending on annual property evaluations," D'Elia said

In the release, Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella said he ordered the budget be reduced knowing the financial challenges residents and businesses owners are facing during the pandemic.

“This was not an easy task given the pressures that all governing agencies are under,” Mirabella said. “But it was absolutely necessary.”

Due to COVID-19, the state's Division of Local Government Services has extended the deadline for counties and municipalities to adopt budgets until May 30, or the next meeting after that date, a local finance notice says.

As a result of social distancing restrictions, members of the public wishing to participate in the meeting may do so via the online videoconferencing platform, Zoom at https://ucnj.org/zoom-meeting/. Using that link, participants must email the board clerk James E. Pellettiere at jpellettiere@ucnj.org to receive the meeting-specific password to gain access to the teleconference, a public notice said. All requests must be submitted and received by noon Thursday. 

Members of the public wishing to comment at the meeting may also email Pellettiere their comments to be read aloud during the meeting by noon on Wednesday at jpellettiere@ucnj.org, a public notice from the county says.

“All relevant comments received will be read into the record during each Regular Meeting’s Public Comment Portion, prior to the Board’s consideration of resolutions for adoption, and will be addressed accordingly by the Board,” the notice states.

Email Matt Kadosh at mkadosh@tapinto.net | Twitter: @MattKadosh