Essex County executive unveils 2014 budget, doesn't shy from tax hike during election year

By Eunice Lee/The Star-Ledger
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on January 12, 2014

Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, pictured here in Oct. 2013, unveiled on Friday his $749 million spending plan for the county. (Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger)


NEWARK — Despite running for re-election this year, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo said he’s not shying away from a tax hike as he unveiled his 2014 budget last week.

The spending plan calls for a 1.5 percent tax levy, which means an increase of about $65 per average homeowner. The proposed budget of $749 million represents a $16 million increase compared with the adopted 2013 budget.

DiVincenzo says he’s taking the long view on the county’s fiscal health.

“I could run an election with no tax increase but what would happen in the future?” he told freeholders, department heads and other county employees gathered Friday in the fourth floor executive offices of the Hall of Records. “Our fiscal house is in order.”.

DiVincenzo, a Democrat, announced his bid for a fourth term last month. The primary election is June 3.

Despite a slight dip in two projected revenue streams — for housing federal detainees and inmates at the county jail and from county park facilities — DiVincenzo emphasized the range of other revenue-generating initiatives across Essex.

Essex County Hospital Center in Cedar Grove is expected to generate $14.1 million for admitting patients from Passaic and Middlesex counties as well as from the state. The county will also receive $4.1 million from Passaic County for housing juveniles at the youth detention center in Newark.

The county’s contract with the federal government to house inmates and detainees raked in $42.8 million in 2012 and $40.6 million last year. This year, the county estimates the arrangement will generate $40.5 million. A large part of that deal is a five-year agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement started in 2011 to house up to 1,250 detainees. On Friday, the county was housing 837 ICE detainees, according to Philip Alagia, DiVincenzo’s chief of staff who oversees the county ICE programs.

Also, revenue figures from the county parks, which DiVincenzo has poured millions of dollars from grants and the county capital budget, dropped from $11.9 million in 2013 to an estimated $11.5 million for this year.

“We’ve been able to bring in huge amounts of revenue,” DiVincenzo said, noting that the county budget includes a $44.3 million fund balance.

The numbers for the 2014 budget are conservative estimates, county treasurer Mark Acker said.

Still, DiVincenzo says his goal is to bring the county’s much improved bond rating of AA-2 to AAA under his watch.

“We’re right there — we’re in striking distance,” he said.

Freeholder President Blonnie Watson lauded what she called DiVincenzo’s strong fiscal leadership.

The freeholder board will hold budget hearings on Jan. 25 and Feb. 8 at the Hall of Records.

“That’s what we’re going to look for again,” she said.

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