Burlington County Commissioners have unanimously approved adoption of a $240-million budget and open space trust for 2023.
The financial plan calls for a $175-million tax levy for government operations. The county’s Farmland Preservation and Open Space Trust will return to a rate of 3 cents per $100 of assessed value and is expected to generate about $15.8 million to fund farmland and open space preservation, as well as park and trail improvements and other parks programs.
The open space tax remains below the maximum 4-cents-per-$100 rate authorized by county voters in 2006.
Burlington had the lowest average county tax in New Jersey in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, according to property data from the state Department of Community Affairs.
The county also had the lowest cost per resident of any New Jersey county, at $367. Bergen was the next closest county, at $469 per resident.
The county parks system consists of more than 1,000 acres of developed parkland, more than 50 miles of interconnecting outdoor trails and several museums and art galleries. The parks division also sponsors hundreds of programs and events that highlight the county’s attributes.
The 2023 budget continues to make investments in parks and trails, among them design and engineering for a proposed trail connecting the county’s Willingboro Lakes Park with the town’s iconic Mill Creek Municipal Park and the extension of the new Arney’s Mount Trail in Springfield.
The budget also supports an upgrade to Long Bridge Park in Hainesport to make its two playgrounds all inclusive and an accessible new playground at the Burlington County Special Service School District’s Westampton campus.
In addition to voting on the budget, the commissioners approved the preservation of three additional farms that applied to enter the county preservation program. The farms are in Mansfield, Shamong and Tabernacle and total 138 acres.
The budget’s $175-million operations levy complies with New Jersey’s statutory tax levy cap and maintains the county’s workforce. It also continues the county’s annual support for Rowan College at Burlington County, the Special Services School District and the Burlington County Institute of Technology. It also increases funding for public safety, health and human services.
The budget allots $10.5 million of the county’s $28.7 million in fund balance from 2022 to support increases in appropriations, but county officials anticipate finishing the year with a healthy surplus that will counter a prolonged economic downturn.
The plan also calls for using $3.5 million in federal American Rescue Fund Act funds to offset revenue losses from the pandemic, a nearly $4-million reduction from last year’s $7.47 million.
Property values increased nearly $3 billion in 2022, so the county’s financial position remains strong, an opinion affirmed by Moody’s Investors Services in a recent report maintaining the county’s Aa1 credit rating. The report cited the county’s “strong financial management” and the steady growth of its fund balance since 2021.