Morris County 2018 Budget Revealed – Slight Increase in Property Taxes

Morris County (MC) is a $306 million operation.  County taxes account for about a quarter of your property tax bill.

Yet many/most folks are not clear about what counties in NJ do and who these “freeholders” are.  “Why don’t we just eliminate that layer?” is a comment heard from time to time.

Freeholders are the elected officials who oversee county government.  Aside: Only in NJ are these county officials called “freeholders”  — technically the Board of Chosen Freeholders.  The original 1776 NJ constitution said that only those who own (aka hold) property debt free could vote.  So the county government was chosen by and from those freeholders.  It’s an anachronism, but one that, perhaps surprisingly, survives.

  • What does a quarter of your taxes and taxes from the other 39 other MC towns help buy for $306mm? Here ‘s a high level breakdown:
  • $56.5mm Public Safety (Sheriff, Prosecutor, Jail and Youth Center)
  • $50.5mm Insurance (liability, workers comp, health)
  • $41.4mm Debt Service (Morris County is AAA rated)
  • $32.6mm Health and Human Services
  • $23.6mm Education – County college ($11.8mm) and technical school ($6.2mm)
  • $23.5mm Statutory Expenses (various items)
  • $22.1mm “General Government” (???)
  • $20.2mm Public Works (road maintenance)
  • $13.7mm Parks & Rec (not the sitcom)
  • $ 9mm “Public and Private Programs offset by revenues (???)
  • $ 7mm Utilities
  • $ 5mm Other Common Operating Functions
  • $ 6mm Capital
  • $ 1mm Code Enforcement

As in most government entities, the vast bulk of the expenditures (75% is a rough rule of thumb) are for compensation – salaries, benefits and post retirement benefits.  The 2018 budget includes 2% aggregate salary adjustment.

Revenue is generated mostly from property taxes (77.6%) but also a many other sources:

  • $237.3mm Taxes
  • $25.4mm Surplus from prior year
  • $19.8mm Local revenues
  • $12.6mm State Aid
  • $4.6mm “Other”
  • $5.6mm “Special Items”

The tax levy increase is 1.79% budget, less than the 2% cap from Trenton.  Because the stock of taxable properties (the “ratable base”) increase from $93.5 billion to $94.4 billion, the tax rate need to raise the revenue increased only slightly.  So the tax on the AVERAGE Morris County property ($41.K) will increase just $1.67.

The budget presentation highlighted:

  • A plan to self-insure employee and retiree prescription drug benefit. So in 2018, funds will be set aside to fund the insurance reserve, for $3.9mm of “run off expenses”.  This is expected to save money long-term.
  • Leasing of Morris View nursing home. This will “conservatively” reduce the 2018 budget by $31.1mm and taxes by $3.2mm.   Future savings will be greater still.
  • Ballistics Laboratory within Sherriff’s office
  • Creating Forensic Drug Laboratory.
  • Absorbing all cost increases associated with providing emergency dispatch for 23 county municipalities and adding dispatch services for Parsippany Fire and EMS.

Only a handful of citizens attended this meeting.

The entire 33 slide presentation deck and the detailed 45 page budget is available on the MC website;

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