TRENTON, N.J.—Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes introduced his administration’s annual proposed budget tonight, a $294 million plan that seeks to limit spending and sustain programs under threat of elimination by state budget cuts.
Hughes told the freeholder board during the April 8 presentation that a significant decline in revenue combined with massive cuts in aid and grants in Governor Chris Christie’s budget is causing unprecedented challenges.
“We are still uncertain as to how drastically the governor’s proposal will affect Mercer County, but 12 of our constituent municipalities collectively are expected to lose about $19.1 million in state funding, and the City of Trenton alone is expected to lose $35 million,” said Hughes as he spoke to the freeholder board at the County’s McDade Administration Building. “Governor Christie’s cuts are forcing us into a position to increase our tax rate to provide for the poor, the elderly, and working families.”
The proposed budget, which will now be reviewed by the Board of Chosen Freeholders for its approval and adoption, raises the County tax rate to 48 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That rate is well below the 54-cent tax rate Hughes inherited when he first took office in 2004.
A resident’s tax rate will rise or fall depending on his or her municipality once the tax rate is equalized. County taxes are equalized to reflect the difference between municipal property assessments and property market values, meaning the actual rate many property owners are charged will increase.
Hughes proposed mitigating the increase by cutting the County’s Open Space Tax back from 3 cents to 2 cents. Despite the fact that the Open Space Tax has been heavily supported by voters in the past, cutting one cent from the tax will save taxpayers about $4.8 million, Hughes said.
In his remarks, Hughes cited serious budget challenges such as state-mandated increases in pension and healthcare costs. Pension costs are up 21 percent and healthcare costs are up 14 percent over last year. Non-tax revenue fell about $15 million from 2009, largely due to state cuts. Still, the County’s overall operating budget of $294 million is approximately $2.5 million less than the 2009 operating budget.