NEWARK, NJ — On Friday, Jan. 11, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. presented a proposed 2019 budget of $761.6 million. According to the county, this budget stabilizes the Essex’s financial plan and addresses the challenges due to ongoing national economic conditions; layoffs have been avoided since 2004 and budgets have been unveiled before the state’s statutory deadline of Jan. 15 for 16 consecutive years.
“Every year we are faced with a variety of challenges that affect our county. 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 said. “Presenting our budget by Jan. 15 is important because it gives our municipal partners and constituents a clear snapshot of what to expect from the county.”
DiVincenzo reminded those gathered that Moody’s Investors Services elevated Essex County’s bond rating to Aaa with a Stable Outlook, the highest rating available and the first time Essex has ever attained Aaa status.
According to DiVincenzo, his administration monitors the budget throughout the year and started preparing the 2018 budget in June 2018.
“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.
Under the proposed 2019 county budget, several county facilities will continue to generate recurring revenue through shared service agreements with other government agencies. The Essex County Correctional Facility is anticipated to generate $42.7 million in revenue by housing federal inmates, immigration detainees and inmates from Gloucester County; the Essex County Hospital Center is anticipated to generate $18.2 million in revenue through reimbursements from the state for admitting patients from the state, and Passaic and Middlesex counties; and the Juvenile Detention Facility is anticipated to generate $3 million by accepting juvenile detainees from Passaic County.
The Essex County Parks Department is anticipated to generate approximately $14.2 million in revenue from admissions and user fees.
Additionally, $44.5 million in fund balance is being used as revenue in the 2019 budget. Because of savings in the previous budget, the total fund balance is projected to be approximately $74.6 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 five years.
Over the last seven years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to about 1.5 percent, which is under the state cap of 2 percent. Over the last 17 years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to approximately 2.38 percent, which is the fifth lowest percentage rate of increase of all New Jersey counties behind Hunterdon, Monmouth, Burlington and Somerset counties.
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. Over the last 17 years, Essex County’s workforce has been reduced from a high of almost 4,000 employees in 2003 to 3,544 in the 2019 budget proposal.
The 2019 budget proposal has been forwarded to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders for review.