With the county budget $43.6 million less than it was in 2008 and the combined county property tax levy down $25.2 million since 2009, the respected Pew Charitable Trust credited Burlington County with having the lowest comparable, residential tax burden in the Philadelphia region in a study last year.
Recently, the Burlington County freeholders introduced a budget plan aimed at earning that distinction again by reducing the total taxes needed to run all county government programs by $7.7 million while cutting the general operating budget by more than $15 million. The move is expected to continue a positive trend that has seen the county share of an average residents’ total tax bill steadily drop from 19 percent in 2007 to 15.8 percent last year.
Facing county tax ratables that plummeted another $1.9 billion, resulting in a general revenue loss of $7.6 million, the freeholders analyzed the three budgets of county government that each operate off a separate and distinct dedicated tax — general operations, the library system, and the open space and historic preservation programs.
“We came to the conclusion that given the $48 million already banked in our land preservation fund, the 4-cent open space tax could be safely reduced to 1.5 cents without any negative impact on our efforts to save land, maintain our parks, or continue operation of our popular municipal recreation grant program,” said Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly.
Donnelly said the overall county property tax rate would remain unchanged. That will be accomplished via a decrease in the dedicated Open Space tax of 2.5 cents that will offset a corresponding increase in the tax rate for the regular operating budget.
Donnelly said he was confident the dedicated open space fund would not only cover existing programs, but also was healthy enough to fund three major initiatives: the planned Underground Railroad Museum at Historic Smithville Park; the conversion of Mount Holly Library into the County’s first general history museum; and the recent partnership with the State, Westampton Township, and other organizations to keep Rancocas Nature Center in operation.
“We are hopeful that the economic recovery will pick up some steam this year, but we remain committed to employing every fiscally responsible tool to protect our property taxpayers and keep more of their own money where it belongs — in their own pockets,” Donnelly said.