New Essex County budget has no tax hike: DiVincenzo

Several commissioners joined DiVincenzo, second from left, for a budget presentation.

Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. presented a balanced 2022 budget of $839 million that includes no county tax increase and addresses challenges caused by the pandemic.

This is the first time since he took office the executive has presented a budget with no tax increase and has stabilized tax increases, limiting them to just 0.37% over the last three years. Layoffs have been avoided since 2004 and budgets have been unveiled before the state’s statutory deadline of Jan. 15 for 19 consecutive years, his office said.

“In addition to the physical health effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, there were negative impacts to our local economy and our residents’ financial health. Presenting a 2022 budget with a 0% tax increase while preserving services is recognition of the financial hardships experienced by our residents during these difficult times,” DiVincenzo said. “Developing our annual budget is a serious matter and sets the financial plan that the county will follow for the upcoming year. Presenting it by Jan. 15 enables us to identify the complex challenges facing government and address them early. It also gives our municipal partners and constituents a clear snapshot of what to expect from the county.

“We have worked aggressively over the last 19 years to address long-standing issues affecting Essex County and strengthen our finances. These past few years, we have seen the fruits of our labor – earning a Aaa bond rating, presenting this year’s budget that does not increase property taxes and refinancing debt without extending its maturity dates. These would not have been possible if we did not remain vigilant about keeping our financial house in order.”

DiVincenzo said his administration monitors budgets throughout the year and started preparing the 2022 budget in June. Getting an early start enabled department and division directors, constitutional officers and county agencies to identify and address issues, investigate ways to reduce expenses and generate new revenue, and have a plan in place by the statutory deadline.

“This rigorous planning and constant vigilance has helped us to respond proactively when we are faced with challenges brought on by the national economy, unexpected events or new laws,” DiVincenzo said.

This has enabled Essex County to do the following:

  • The 2022 budget includes a 0% property tax increase. The state cap allows property taxes to rise no more than 2% annually.
  • Over the last five years, property tax increases have been limited to .45% and over the last 10 years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to about 1.16%, significantly below the state cap.
  • Over the last 20 years, Essex County has held the increase in property taxes to about 2.04%, which is the fourth-lowest percentage rate of increase of all New Jersey, behind Hunterdon, Monmouth and Burlington counties.
  • In August 2018, Essex County earned a Aaa bond rating with a Stable Outlook from Moody’s Investors Services, the first time in history that Essex attained the highest rating available. To put this in perspective, when DiVincenzo entered office, the County’s bond rating was just above junk bond status. Having a strong bond rating demonstrates the fiscal health of a government and helps save money because lower interest rates generally are offered.
  • Starting in 2007, DiVincenzo implemented a “debt diet” initiative to stabilize the County’s debt service by refinancing existing debt without extending its maturity date and limiting the amount of new debt to a maximum of $20 million annually. In 2022, the debt service payment is $127.8 million, which will be reduced to just $54.4 million in 2028.
  • DiVincenzo has downsized the County workforce by not filling open positions unless they were essential to public safety and public health operations. This includes positions such as nurses at the hospital center or corrections officers at the Essex County Correctional Facility. Under DiVincenzo’s leadership, over the last 19 years, Essex County’s workforce has been reduced from a high of more than 4,000 employees in 2003 to 3,562 in 2022.

The 2022 budget is projected to have about $111.4 million of new, recurring revenue, which lessens the county’s reliance on raising property taxes.

This is the first time in history that Essex County has earned a “triple A” rating, which is the highest rating available. (The County has a AA-plus rating with Fitch Ratings.)

The 2022 budget has been forwarded to the Essex County Board of Commissioners for review.

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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.