County moves ahead with $114M budget
The members of the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors conceded they have a lot of work ahead of them following county administrator Brenda Garton’s presentation of the county’s fiscal year 2015-16 $114 million budget.
During her presentation Tuesday night in the colonial courthouse, Garton explained that many funding requests were not granted in order to maintain an equalized real estate tax rate of 68 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Last month, the board of supervisors directed Garton to develop the budget based on the equalized 68-cent rate, which is up three pennies from the current rate of 65 cents, to make up for an overall decrease in property values following January’s general reassessment. The board also directed her to show what types of cuts might be necessary if the budget were balanced with subsequent rates of 67 cents, 66 cents and the current 65 cents.
Following Garton’s budget presentation, the board voted 5-2 (Gloucester Point district supervisor Chris Hutson and Ware district supervisor Andy James against) to advertise the rate for the equalized rate of 68 cents for the March 23 public hearing on the budget. All other tax rates, including personal property, will be advertised at their current levels.
Garton’s proposed budget calls for level local funding of the school system, as she said she was unable to fund its request for an additional increase of about $1.3 million. This includes a projected operating increase of over half a million dollars to open the new Page Middle School.
Meanwhile, on the county side, Garton had to fund about $547,500 for increased inmate housing costs at the regional jail. “The proposed budget is founded on the understanding that the county must absorb $547,500 in the operating cost for housing inmates, and the school district will have to absorb about $600,000 in operating costs for the new Page Middle School, so that puts each body on a level playing field for increased costs that must be accommodated without additional local revenue,” she said.
Garton said she was also faced with rising health insurance costs for county employees on the order of $364,000 for the county’s share and nearly one million dollars to fund the county’s recommended vehicle and equipment replacement fund.
All of the items that were requested to be funded came to an increase of about $4.3 million over the current year’s expenditures. This would have required about a 12-cent increase on the real estate tax rate. “And that clearly can’t happen,” she said.
In the end, Garton said her proposed budget is a “hybrid of a number of options reviewed and considered that balance the equalized real estate tax rate of 68 cents,” she said.