$194 million county budget down slightly from last year

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ATLANTIC CITY – A $194 million budget, down slightly from a year ago was presented to the Atlantic County Board of Freeholders Tuesday, Jan. 15 by County Executive Dennis Levinson.

“As you are well aware, the year behind us was a particularly challenging one,” Levinson said. “The derecho, which hit our area forcefully and unexpectedly last June, and Hurricane Sandy tested the responsiveness and resiliency of Atlantic County government.”

He said the county responded well to both emergencies. 

“Yet in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy we still have much to clean up, repair and rebuild,” Levinson said. “More than 60 days later, we still have residents who are unable to return to their homes and resume a normal life.”

He said 2013 will present its own challenges - some known, such as a declining tax ratable base, a stagnant regional economy and high unemployment. Other problems are not so clear. 

“Atlantic County’s main industry, casino gaming, continues to lose revenue to other gaming jurisdictions,” Levinson said. “From 2007 to the end of 2012, the industry’s gross revenues have declined from approximately $5.2 billion to $3 billion.  That means there is approximately $2.5 billion less circulating in the local economy than a few years ago.”  The gaming industry’s decline has contributed to a 14.5 percent unemployment rate, he said.  There are 25,000 fewer casino workers than there were a few years ago.  Many remain in our workforce with significant wage and benefit reductions.

The Department of Family and Community Development has seen a dramatic rise in food stamp and temporary aid for needy family cases, Levinson said. 

In 2007 Atlantic County had 17,917 individuals on food stamps. It now has 41,293. And, he said, increases are expected.

Atlantic County’s equalized valuation peaked at $58,266,396,436 in 2008.

Atlantic City’s total equalized value declined approximately $1.86 billion from last year and is down approximately $7.8 billion from 2008 with effects being felt countywide. 

“Our frugality when times were good is paying off today,” Levinson said. “We did not incur a huge debt or expand services.  We held our operational costs to a minimum.  Now, when times are more difficult, we are still able to develop a budget that meets the needs of our citizens and is responsible to our taxpayers.”

The 2013 county budget is $194,009,057.54, a decrease of .04 percent from last year.  The amount to be raised by taxation is $155,770,109.58, approximately $3,708,306.29 less than allowed by the state budget cap. 

“Based on the best information we currently have available, we conservatively predict the county equalized tax rate will be remain fairly stable at .3442, and is still much lower than the .44 cents rate in 2000,” Levinson said. “Total operational expenses are up less than one percent.  Considering the increases in our fixed costs and the contractual yearly increases due our seventeen bargaining units, that is quite an accomplishment.” 

The budget would appropriate 50 percent of the year-end surplus, $7,155.000 to the 2013 budget.

“Atlantic County does not have to worry about increasing its debt ceiling,” Levinson said. “Our total net debt as of the end of the 2012 fiscal year is less than three tenths of one percent of our total bonding capacity.” 

The executive said the county must concentrate efforts on economic growth and job creation which will only come with cooperative and concerted effort.

“We are prepared to undertake this challenge,” Levinson said. “Our thirteen perfect annual audits, strong and consistent bond ratings and low debt, attest to the soundness of our fiscal policies and the quality and experience of our financial staff.”

He said the freeholder board acting in bipartisan fashion deserves a lot of credit in contrast to the federal government.

“I would like to believe that Atlantic County might serve as an example for all levels of government,” Levinson said. “All of you help to make Atlantic County a better place and have my gratitude and appreciation.”

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