NEWARK, NJ — On Wednesday, Jan. 11, Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. presented a 2023 county budget of $885.4 million that includes a 1.5-percent property increase and addresses the challenges incurred by the ongoing national economic conditions and rising costs due to inflation, according to a press release from the county. DiVincenzo has limited tax increases to just 0.6 percent over the last five years and layoffs have been avoided since 2004. The county executive has presented the county budget before the state’s statutory deadline of Jan. 15 for 20 consecutive years.
“Our 2023 budget that we are presenting today increases Essex County property taxes by just 1.5 percent, which is significantly lower than the state cap of 2 percent. This recognized the financial hardships our residents have faced through the coronavirus pandemic as well as rising costs we all are experiencing because of inflation,” DiVincenzo said. “Developing our annual budget is a serious matter and sets the financial plan that the county will follow for the upcoming year. Presenting it by Jan. 15 enables us to identify the complex challenges facing government and address them early. It also gives our municipal partners and constituents a clear snapshot of what to expect from the county.”
According to DiVincenzo, his administration monitors the budget throughout the year and started preparing the 2023 budget in June 2022. 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 Jan. 15 deadline.
“This rigorous planning and constant vigilance have helped us to respond proactively when we are faced with challenges brought on by the national economy, unexpected events or new laws,” DiVincenzo said.
“I commend Joe’s team and our 3,500 employees for making sure Essex County is always moving forward. On behalf of the county commissioners, we will work with the county executive to make sure this continues to happen,” Essex County Commissioner President Wayne Richardson said.
Over the last 20 years, Essex County has held the average yearly increase in property taxes to about 2.05 percent, which is the fourth lowest percentage rate of increase of all New Jersey counties behind Hunterdon, Monmouth and Burlington counties.
Starting in 2007, DiVincenzo implemented a “debt diet” 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 2023, the debt service payment is $134 million, which will be reduced to just $59.8 million in 2028.
DiVincenzo has downsized the county workforce by not filling open positions 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 20 years, Essex County’s workforce has been reduced from a high of more than 4,000 employees in 2003 to 3,557 in the 2023 budget proposal.
Over the years, Essex County has built a strong fund balance by realizing savings in previous years’ budgets. The fund balance projected for 2023 is about $90.1 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 six years. When DiVincenzo took office in 2003, the previous administration had left a budget deficit of $64 million.
In the 2023 budget, $36 million in fund balance is being used as revenue. The 2023 budget is projected to have about $113.98 million of new, recurring revenue, which lessens the county’s reliance on raising property taxes.
The 2023 budget proposal has been forwarded to the Essex County Board of County Commissioners for review.