UNION COUNTY, NJ — The Union County freeholders have introduced a $614.918 million spending plan that maintains the tax levy at $367.295 — the same as it was last year.

The freeholders introduced the budget by a unanimous vote Thursday and also discussed federal funding the county has obtained under the CARES Act. Finance Director Bibi Taylor said the freeholders delivered the tax relief by using surplus dollars.

“This has been an effort that has been building over a number of years,” Taylor said. “We were able to realize a great deal of surplus, and this is a time when we are able to [use] the benefits of that.”

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The budget shows the freeholders anticipate spending $53.29 million of its surplus monies this year, leaving a remaining balance of $80.33 million in surplus. It comes amid soaring unemployment due to COVID-19.

What’s Up? Spending has increased by $3 million on salaries and wages as a result of negotiated salary increases, according to the budget’s listing of structural imbalances.

What’s Down? Taylor said the county had to account for reduced revenues as a result of parks programming and other projects being suspended due to coronavirus. The budget shows a $1 million reduction in revenues as a result of parks being closed due to COVID-19. It also shows a $500,000 reduction in revenues as a result of sheriff’s sales being suspended due to coronavirus.

What’s being funded? The budget shows funding for an expansion of the Union County Dispatch Center, which provides services to 14 municipalities, fire EMS, mutual aid and 27 first responder agencies. The budget continues funding for the continuation of the Municipal Infrastructure grant program, the library grant program, the HEART grant program for artists and the Union County Means Green community gardens program.

Where can I see the budget? Click here to see the budget.

What Was Cut? Taylor said the that county reduced positions that had not been filled, “eliminating many vacancies.” The executive budget states that the county reduced its staff by 60 positions.

What about Federal Funding for COVID-19? The county has received $101.333 million in funding under the federal CARES Act, according to the budget. Spending that money has not yet started, Amy Wagner, director of the Union County Department of Economic Development, said. “Our desire is to have a more comprehensive approach between this money and any other CARES dollars we have coming, and then we’ll decide on how we’ll spend it going forward,” Wagner said.

What does the chairman say? “With tonight’s vote we will continue our trend of fiscal responsibility,” said Freeholder Chairman Alexander Mirabella. “We will maintain the county’s bond rating which is the highest possible at AAA.”

What does the fiscal chairman say? Freeholder Fiscal Committee Chairman Sergio Granados said that with unemployment rising and residents financially hurt as a result of the pandemic, the board is keeping the tax levy at the same level as the prior year. “We used millions in funds from our surplus account, and due to the partial shutdown of government services … saved on fuel,” Granados said.

When is the public hearing? A public hearing on the spending plan is scheduled for May 21, at 5:30 p.m.

What’s the tax impact? Mirabella noted the tax impact may not translate to a zero increase in county taxes for homeowners in each town. This is due to the way the state apportions property taxes.

“That’s not necessary a zero impact for every town,” Mirabella said. “Although the overall budget is a zero increase.”

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