NEWTON, NJ (Sussex County) – The Sussex County’s Board of County Commissioners Wednesday night unanimously adopted the 2021 Budget.
As discussed at past commissioner meetings, the 2021 Budget – authorized at $97,398,233 – was down approximately 1.9% or at $2 million less than the 2020 adopted budget.
In spite of hurdles that the County of Sussex faced in 2020, including having been one of the only counties in New Jersey to have been passed over for CARES funding in the first round – and not receiving monies from Gov. Phil Murphy until August 2020 to fight the coronavirus pandemic – the 2021 Budget reflected the lowest tax levy increase in six years; and among the lowest tax levy increase over the last 15 years.
Among the Commissioners’ accolades in keeping the budget lower than 2020, at past meetings prior to the budget adoption Commissioner Director Dawn Fantasia explained the Commissioners were able to devise a debt repayment plan that had been more fiscally conservative than ones arranged by past boards. The Commissioners also refinanced inherited solar project debt that a past Board had negotiated, tallying to $300,000 savings each year.
The budget was additionally trimmed through negotiations with the county’s public employees. The negotiated CWA contract included a new healthcare plan with the same benefits, which reaped nearly $1 million in taxpayer savings.
As part of the Budget Committee, Fantasia and Deputy Director Anthony Fasano worked closely with Administrator Greg Poff, Chief Financial Officer Elke Yetter and Budget Officer Mary Lee Van Hooker, over a period of eight months, to review detailed budget requests, participate in budget hearings and finalize the larger budget document.
“I think it’s a good budget, I know you [Fantasia and Fasano] worked really hard on this along with Administrator Poff and Elke Yetter,” Commissioner Chris Carney commented during the budget hearing.
“People really need to understand that if the county had not had good, conservative financial planning in the previous years, we would have never been able to present this type of a budget tonight,” said Commissioner Sylvia Petillo.
“I want to thank and acknowledge the many staff members and professionals who work with us in developing this budget, which absolutely commits to fiscal responsibility, it prioritizes defeating this pandemic, while providing more services for our residents, and investing in our future,” Fasano said. “So, keeping Sussex County safe and affordable has to be the biggest priority, and I think this budget reflects that well; and I’m thankful for all the work that went into it.”
“I’ll echo the sentiments of my colleagues up here to thank our professionals as always, for the time and the effort and the care that they put into it [the budget],” Fantasia said. “Thank you to the subcommittees.”
“Safety was certainly a huge factor that went into some of our decisions this year, whether it came to investing further in infrastructure, investing in the epidemiologist at the Health Department,” Fantasia said. “All of our coronavirus response planning has been on point, as far as trying to determine the capacity of what we needed and services we needed in relation to our population.”
“I’m proud of the fact that we came in a couple of years ago, Freeholder [Joshua] Hertzberg and myself, and we sat with the entire board and with some of our professionals to discuss the debt reduction plan, so instead of a 50-year plan or a 30-year plan, we now have a 10- year debt reduction plan,” Fantasia said. “Even in the face of COVID-19, we did not waver from that and we were able to appropriate our full payment as we have structured towards our debt.”
“It speaks volumes for the fact that we were committed to differentiate needs versus wants, we talk about that frequently, and I’m proud of the work that our professionals did, and a special thank you to Elke Yetter, as well,” Fantasia said.
On Wednesday, the commissioners also unanimously adopted the Capital Ordinance in the amount of $3,125,503, which will provide for “road improvements, information technology and communications improvements; and general capital improvements and acquisition of nonpassenger vehicles, buses and equipment for various county owned facilities in and for Sussex County.
The commissioners adopted the Bond Ordinance for various 2021 Capital Improvements, appropriated in the amount of $15,179,319, which was comprised of grants totaling $7,349,052. The ordinance adoption authorized $7,513,160 in bonds or notes to finance a portion of the costs.
A Bond Ordinance was additionally adopted for capital improvements at the Sussex County Technical School in the amount of $900,000, authorized in bonds or notes.