CONTACT:  Julie Willmot
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TRENTON, N.J.—The Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders reported progress recently on efforts to balance the County budget, while the County Executive’s office announced the first step in a new effort to trim County personnel costs.

“After nine budget meetings and uncounted work hours of effort, the Freeholder Board has identified more than $2 million in savings that will be incorporated in the new budget,” said Freeholder President Anthony Carabelli. 
“This has been a difficult budget for all concerned,” noted Freeholder Pat Colavita. “There have been some hard choices to be made and some things we would have liked to see in the budget had to be removed or scaled back because of the revenue crunch created by a dismal economy.”
Freeholder Dan Benson praised the efforts made by his colleagues and the Administration in addressing this year’s budget challenges. “In a year controlled by economic-driven pressures, the cooperation by everyone has led to cost-savings that lessened the potential impact on personnel while preserving our key county services and programs,” he said.
Upon introduction to the Freeholder Board, the proposed budget is $296,516,924, of which $219,013,335 will be raised by taxation. The Mercer County tax rate will increase by 2 cents under the $296,516,924 proposed budget.
“We are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to balancing this year’s budget,” noted Freeholder Lucy Walter.  “On one hand, State laws severely limit the ability to raise tax money in the county at the same time that a poor economy has drastically reduced other sources of revenue.  And, on the other hand, some operating costs beyond our control continue to rise dramatically.”
From the County Executive’s office comes the news that the County has taken a first step toward trimming personnel costs by submitting an economy-driven layoff outline to the state for approval.  The preliminary proposal includes approximately 75 positions.
 “What needs to be made clear is that this layoff plan is the worst-case scenario and serves as a starting point for discussion on other options for personnel cost savings,” said County Executive Brian M. Hughes.
“We have to take this step in order to move along discussion with our unions on other, less drastic ways of cutting costs,” said the County Executive.  “By putting a number to potential layoffs, we now clear the table for every other option that might also reduce personnel costs.”
Freeholder Ann Cannon echoed the County Executive’s concern over the possibility of layoffs.  “Having been the target of a layoff myself in the past, I have felt the devastating impact that the loss of income can have on a family. 
“I want to commend the County Executive for taking the bold step to open discussions on how to save on personnel costs and am hopeful that he will be able to trim the need for layoffs with the cooperation of our county unions,” Cannon said.
Freeholder John Cimino noted, “Mercer County is not alone when it comes to coping with budgetary issues driven by a poor economy, but thanks to early planning and effective management, Mercer finds itself in a much better position than many of our neighboring governments in New Jersey.”
“Layoff is a frightening word for families to hear in the current economy,” concluded Freeholder Keith Hamilton.  “That’s one reason the economies that the Freeholder Board has identified in this budget will be welcomed by so many families in Mercer County.”