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TRENTON, N.J. - Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes presented on Feb. 28 an overview of his administration’s annual proposed budget, a $294 million plan that seeks to limit spending while maintaining services. The proposed budget, which now will be reviewed by the freeholder board for its approval and adoption, stays within the mandated 2-percent cap.

Hughes told the Board of Chosen Freeholders during the Feb. 28 presentation at the county’s McDade Administration Building that rising health benefits costs, fuel costs and insurance premiums, along with money expended toward the cleanup of Hurricane Sandy that hasn’t been reimbursed, all have put a squeeze on the County budget.

County finances also have taken a hit from a fourth straight year of declining equalized value, Hughes said.

“The cumulative effect is equal to a 12 percent drop in our ratable value or roughly $6.3 billion in ratables,” he said.

Hughes said the surge of economic activity taking shape around Mercer County, such as Church and Dwight’s new expansion in Ewing and Amazon’s plan to build a mega warehouse in Robbinsville, is “positive news and a ray of hope” but doesn’t yet represent revenue that will support the County budget.

“The lion’s share of our revenue comes from property taxes and we anticipate that the ratable growth may linger behind business recovery,” he said.

The proposed budget represents a 6-cent increase in the county tax rate, to 59 cents per $100 of assessed property value. Of the total budget, $248 million would be collected locally through property tax. The proposed budget includes the use of about half of the county surplus, or about $11 million.

A resident’s tax rate will rise or fall depending on his or her municipality once the tax rate is equalized. The levy increase for some residents will be less than 1 percent. 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.