By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
All the numbers are still up in the air, but during the Atlantic County Board of County Commissioners meeting Tuesday, Jan. 17, Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said taxes in the county will decrease a bit in 2023.
Levinson said that despite inflation and increases in salaries of county workers, the proposed general purpose tax rate could drop to 43.05 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, down 2 cents from last year.
Budget numbers are tentative based on a willingness to consider “educated risks” and may change before the budget is officially introduced.
Levinson said the drop could be greater “if the state gives us what we are entitled to” in the Atlantic City PILOT program that has been in litigation for the last few years. Casinos have “bounced back” from pre-pandemic levels, and the 13.5% tax payments to the county should be reinstated in full, he said.
“Three Superior Court decisions ruled in our favor last year, but the state is appealing those decisions,” he said.
The county will apply half of its surplus funds to the budget. The $13.8 million, which totals 50% of available funding, is the average applied to budgets in past years, he said. The total tax levy is $171.3 million, up from $160 million last year.
Levinson said the county had to increase salaries more than 2% to meet labor demands and attract new employees to fill an estimated 300 positions vacated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The increase was necessary to get bargaining units to accept a health plan that is more affordable for the county. Governments in New Jersey are facing a 24% increase in the cost of the State Health Benefits Plan.
“We have tried to attract new hires by increasing our starting salaries. Because of our reduced workforce, we have also had to utilize outside agencies to perform certain services. Neither of these alternatives is ideal or will serve as a panacea,” he said.
He touted improvements from some county initiatives, such as building a second building at the county’s National Aerospace Research and Technology Park, advancing an air cargo hub at Atlantic City International Airport, instituting paperless bidding, improvements at Lenape Park in Mays Landing, installing solar arrays and upgrading to LED lighting, and encouraging shared services through the state’s Local Efficiency Achievement Program as a way to save taxpayer dollars.
The county maintains for a 14th year, top tier bond ratings, which provide lower interest rates on borrowing.
Levinson said the county’s website will be updated in 2023 to enhance accessibility and encourage citizen engagement. The county is also purchasing new voting machines to ensure election integrity.
“Our accomplishments give us good reason to be optimistic about Atlantic County,” Levinson said. “Our conservative, fiscal management and longterm planning continue to serve us well. I am extraordinarily proud of what we have been able to achieve while still maintaining quality programs and services, low taxes, low debt and a surplus for unanticipated circumstances.”
In other business, the Atlantic County Board of County Commissioners interviewed and then appointed former Superior Court Judge Mark Sandson to the Atlantic Cape Community College Board of Trustees.
The board also discussed at length but took no action regarding an increase in rates charged to municipalities by the Atlantic County Utilities Authority for trash and recycling services. The ACUA is a quasi-governmental agency with its own board and financial oversite.
County Administrator Gerald DelRossi said that despite the rate increase, the ACUA maintains the lowest trash disposal fees in the state. He suggested board members contact ACUA President Richard Dovey directly for more information about why the rate is increasing.
Commissioners agreed there needs to be more dialogue between the county and ACUA about the future of the county landfill, which is slated to close in 2026.
Newly elected Board Chairman John Risley said the best the commissioners can do is sit down with the ACUA to find long term projections about future costs.
Read Levinson’s entire budget address here: