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Freeholders Pass $491.5M County Budget

The 2011 spending plan holds the tax levy at 2010 levels.

The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders passed a $491.5 million budget by 4-1 at Shrewsbury Borough Hall Thursday evening. Freeholder Deputy Director John Curley cast the dissenting vote.

The 2011 spending plan is $4.5 million less than the one introduced Feb. 24 and is $1.9 million, or 0.39 percent, lower than the 2010 budget. The tax levy in the introduced plan was $313 million, a $10.5 million increase over 2010. The amended budget passed by the board Thursday held the tax levy flat at $302.4 million.

Monmouth County Finance Director Craig Marshall said the county cut an additional $4.5 million from the budget in the following departments: $3.7 million from the sheriff’s office, $500,000 from the vocation school district, $230,000 from the mosquito commission, and $70,000 from the superintendent of elections. The county also used $6.25 million in surplus to keep the levy at 2010’s level.

Curley cited the use of surplus as a factor in his vote against the budget. “As a businessman, you do not balance budgets on nonrecurring funds without making the corresponding cuts,” Curley said.

Freeholder Director Robert Clifton said he agreed with Curley that using surplus funds could be problematic, but holding the tax levy flat in difficult economy was paramount. He noted that projected revenues in 2011 looked more promising than in previous years.

“I’ve always been a firm opponent of using more surplus. It is a risky move but I felt in the current economic time, trying to get that levy down to zero and providing some relief to the taxpayers was worth the risk,” Clifton said.

Freeholder Thomas Arnone said the county should look for new revenue streams and increase opportunities for shared services in the future. He said he would be reaching out to municipalities to find out what services the county could work with towns on to reduce the burden on the taxpayer. Both Arnone and Freeholder Amy Mallet noted that the county would continue to look for ways to reduce the budget

Mallet said she would have preferred to see more cuts and the elimination of duplicated roles in county government, such as public relations positions. Mallet also called for the board to consider privatizing golf pro shops on county courses.

Freeholder Lillian Burry said that while the county must be self-disciplined and avoid using surplus, keeping the tax levy flat and providing government services was ultimately the most important consideration.

“A budget is about more than dollars. Government is responsible for providing a broad array of essential services that more and more people depend on when times are most troubled,” Burry said.

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