The Burlington County Board of Commissioners have put forward a 2021 county budget that will continue to fund critical services and respond to residents’ needs but with no increase to the county tax levy.
The proposed $233 million budget was introduced unanimously by the Board Wednesday night, marking the first time in modern history that that the county budget was unveiled in March.
The spending plan calls for the county tax levy – which is the amount raised from property owners to support county operations – to remain stable at $169.7 million. It also maintains the county’s workforce and continues critical funding for the County’s COVID-19 response and critical infrastructure, public safety, senior services, workforce development and education.
“For over a year the COVID-19 pandemic has put an incredible strain on the finances of our residents and small businesses, and our Board was determined not to add to their tax burden during the still ongoing crisis,” said Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson. “This budget keeps the county tax levy flat but still allows us to continue to provide critical services and assistance to help families and businesses.”
The budget maintains the county’s strong finances despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, including an anticipated net revenue decrease of $3.46 million compared to 2020 revenues.
The revenue loss is attributed to the unprecedented health crisis and reductions in collected fees and other funding and the expiration of several grants received in 2020.
The Commissioners froze all discretionary spending in the fall last year in anticipation of reduced revenues, and the Board ended up cancelling $3 million in 2020 appropriations. The savings were applied directly to the County’s reserves and then used to keep the 2021 plan balanced without increasing the amount to be raised by taxation.
The 2021 budget calls for the use of $10 million of the county’s $25.8 million in remaining fund balance from 2020, up from $7.5 million used for operations last year. County officials still anticipate finishing this year with a healthy surplus that exceeds 10% of the total budget. Doing so safeguards the County from a prolonged economic downturn and contributes to its strong credit rating.
Last week Moody’s Investors Services issued a report that cited “budgeting and ongoing expenditure controls” and “strong financial results” for maintaining the County’s strong Aa1 credit rating.
Burlington County also had the lowest average county taxes in New Jersey in 2019 and 2020, according to New Jersey Department of Community Affairs property tax data, and the lowest cost per resident of any county.
“We expect this budget will allow us to remain the lowest again in 2021,” said Commissioner Deputy Director Dan O’Connell. “Our Board is proud of this record but also that we’ve been able to accomplish it while still responding to our residents needs, especially with all the challenges from COVID-19.”
The proposed budget’s $233 million in total appropriations continues the County’s effective COVID-19 response, including the Health Department testing and contact tracing programs and the monthly food distribution events overseen by the Department of Human Services.
Burlington County was one of the first counties in the state to set up a COVID-19 testing program and it is also now partnering with the State of New Jersey, Virtua Health and the New Jersey National Guard to operate the Burlington County Vaccine Mega-Site at the Moorestown Mall.
The budget also maintains programs critical for the county’s most vulnerable residents, including the Meals on Wheels and Senior Nutrition programs. It also supports two recently new initiatives, the Housing Hub and Recovery Center at the Human Services Building in Westampton. Both of those programs serve as “one stop shops” for residents looking for assistance for housing issues or substance abuse.
The budget continues the county’s annual support for Rowan College at Burlington County, the Burlington County Special Services School District and Burlington County Institute of Technology.
“Responsible government means being good stewards with our residents’ tax dollars and this budget reflects sound fiscal management,” said Hopson. “It keeps a close watch on our financial bottom lines while still providing the services and assistance our residents want and need.”
American Rescue Plan Act
The recently signed American Rescue Plan Act is expected to send significant direct federal aid to Burlington County as COVID-19 relief, however, because New Jersey and Burlington County are still waiting for federal and state guidance, the budget does not reflect any funding from the law.
Once the guidance is released, the Board of Commissioners will develop a plan and budget amendment that reflects any additional assistance.
“We’re extremely appreciative of the American Rescue Plan Act and are confident it will be a tremendous help in our ongoing battle against the virus. But we were instructed to wait for the formal guidance before budgeting expected federal aid as revenue,” said Hopson.
The County’s Chief Financial Officer Carolyn Havlick will be available to answer resident’s questions about the budget by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.