The Camden County Freeholders cut property taxes for the third consecutive year as they adopted a $326 million operating budget for 2009 that avoids layoffs and does not reduce any of the more than 200 services provided by the county.
The spending plan also means the 2009 tax rate will be the lowest in nearly 50 years. The governing body acted unanimously after hearing a number of comments both supporting and opposing their action during the regular monthly board meeting held at the Waterford Municipal Building recently.
Among the critics were an estimated 100 members of the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) who have been complaining for weeks about the freeholders offer to share cost-cutting strategies with local governing bodies, including boards of education.
“In these tough economic times, everyone will have to share in the sacrifices required of us all,” Cappelli said of the NJEA letter-writing campaign protesting against the freeholders’ dedication to belt-tightening, noting that he had already met with the unions on these issues in April, explaining that the County has no jurisdiction over the contracts and was simply offering suggestions to all taxing entities in the county.
“We have recognized for some time that personnel costs present the major challenge in reducing costs and began addressing that reality about five years ago, long before the economy slipped into crisis mode in 2008,” Cappelli said. “And we’ve been able to make these changes without any layoffs. We are encouraging all taxing entities to do the same, in order to relieve some of the tax burden on our citizens.”
“The credit for this remarkable budgetary achievement goes to every member of this Freeholder Board,” added Deputy Director Edward T McDonnell, who oversees finances within the county administration. McDonnell said the reduction in taxes results from a disciplined, business-like approach to government.
In addition, McDonnell said savings have been realized through a variety of innovative approaches, including shared services with other government entities, cooperative purchasing of office supplies, electricity, and the like, as well as an analysis and reorganization of the delivery of healthcare to employees.
Looking ahead, Cappelli promised to seek still more efficiencies through the Transformation Initiative begun earlier this year to find ways to enhance cooperation among the county and its eight semi-autonomous organizations — the Board of Social Services, Health Services Center, Camden County College, Camden County Technical Schools, Improvement Authority, Municipal Utilities Authority, Library Commission, and the Pollution Control Financing Authority.