Essex County unveils $762 million budget for 2016

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — On Monday, Jan. 11, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo Jr. presented a 2016 budget of $762 million with the hope of stabilizing the county’s financial plan and addressing challenges likely to be presented by national economic conditions. According to a release, layoffs have been avoided since 2004 and budgets have been unveiled before the state’s statutory deadline of Jan. 15, for 13 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 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 in the release. “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 added that he hopes to have Essex County’s bond rating elevated to a AAA rating from its current bond rating of AA2, which is the highest it’s been in a generation, according to the executive.

Highlights of the 2016 Essex County budget are listed here.

• $835,000 is being deposited into the county’s “snow bank,” a dedicated fund that can be used in case the snow removal budget of $3.5 million is completely spent. The snow bank eliminates the need for emergency appropriations or budget transfers. With this year’s allocation, the snow bank’s dedicated funds will increase to $2.9 million.

• $19,000 is being allocated to a new Mosquito Control Reserve and it is anticipated that as much as another $100,000 could be deposited by the end of 2016. Similar to the snow bank, the Mosquito Control Reserve will eliminate the need for emergency appropriations or budget transfers should additional resources be needed to control the mosquito population.

• $12 million in fund balance is being used as revenue in the 2016 budget. In addition, because of savings in the previous budget, the total fund balance will be about $64.4 million. This reserve helps the county respond to emergencies and display fiscal stability to bond rating agencies.

• During the last four years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to about 1.9 percent, which is under the state cap of 2 percent.

• 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 $41.25 million in revenue by housing federal inmates, immigration detainees and inmates from Gloucester County; the Essex County Hospital Center is anticipated to generate $14.6 million in revenue through reimbursements from the state for admitting patients from the state, Passaic County and Middlesex County; the Juvenile Detention Facility is anticipated to generate $3.3 million by accepting juvenile detainees from Passaic County.

• The Essex County Parks Department is anticipated to generate about $13.9 million in revenue from admissions and user fees.

• Total pension costs amount to $37.6 million.

• Total health insurance and prescription costs have increased to $99 million, an increase of $13 million.

• The Fund Balance is anticipated to be increased to $64.4 million. This has helped improve the county’s cash flow and avoid taking out tax anticipation notes for the last three years.

In addition, open positions have been left unfilled unless essential to public safety and public health operations. During the last 12 years, Essex County’s workforce has been reduced from a high of almost 4,000 employees in 2003 to 3,524 in the 2016 budget proposal.

The 2016 budget proposal has been forwarded to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders for review.