The Burlington County Commissioners voted to adopt a 2023 County budget that delivers essential services and programs while still maintaining its status as the most affordable county in the region.
The $240 million budget was unanimously adopted by the Commissioners Wednesday night along with the open space trust. Both reflect the Commissioners’ commitment to sound fiscal management and affordability while assuring critical services remain accessible.
“This budget delivers on our promise to keep Burlington County affordable while still protecting the public’s safety, health and the quality of life that residents and businesses have come to expect here,” said Burlington County Commissioner Director Felicia Hopson. “The spending plan also shows our county’s priorities and values. It provides essential services that help protect seniors and vulnerable residents, and makes strategic investments in infrastructure, education and economic development that is critical for our county’s future.”
The budget calls for a $175 million tax levy for government operations. Burlington County’s Farmland Preservation and Open Space Trust will return to a rate of 3 cents per $100 of assessed value and is expected to generate about $15.8 million to fund farmland and open space preservation, parks and trails improvements and other Department of Resource Conservation and Parks programs.
The open space tax remains below the maximum 4-cent per $100 rate authorized by county voters in 2006.
Burlington County had the lowest average county tax in New Jersey in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022, according to the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs property tax data.
The County also had the lowest cost per resident of New Jersey county at $367. Bergen County was the next closest county with a $469 cost per resident. The Commissioners are confident Burlington County will remain the most affordable county in 2023 despite fiscal challenges, including contractual salary increases and rising costs for insurance, pensions and other mandated expenses.
“This budget allocates the funding needed to fairly compensate hundreds of dedicated county employees for the work they perform every day in service to our residents,” said Burlington County Commissioner Deputy Director Tom Pullion. “These workers are residents and taxpayers too. Together, we’ve helped Burlington County residents navigate unprecedented challenges while maintaining the affordability that has become the hallmark our county and our government.”
Preserving quality of life
The Burlington County Parks System consists of more than 1,000 acres of developed parkland and more than 50 miles of interconnecting hiking, biking and running trails, along with several museums and art galleries. The Parks Division also holds hundreds of programs and events that highlight the County’s natural resources, history and diverse arts and culture.
The 2023 budget continues to make investments in parks and trails. Among the improvements planned this year are the design and engineering for a proposed trail connecting the County’s Willingboro Lakes Park with Willingboro’s iconic Mill Creek Municipal Park and the extension of the new Arney’s Mount Trail in Springfield to the Burlington County Fairgrounds off Route 206. The budget also supports an upgrade to Long Bridge Park in Hainesport to make the park’s two playgrounds all-inclusive and accessible and a new accessible playground at the Burlington County Special Service School District’s Westampton Campus.
Burlington County continues to be a national leader in the preservation of farms. More than 63,000 acres of farmland has been preserved here, ranking Burlington County No. 1 in New Jersey for total acres preserved and No. 7 in the nation.
In addition to voting on the budget Wednesday, the Commissioners approved the preservation of three additional farms that applied to enter the County preservation program. The farms are located in Mansfield, Shamong and Tabernacle and total 138 acres.
“Responsibly restoring our open space tax will help us save more farms, combat overdevelopment and make important park improvements,” Pullion said. “It’s a sound investment in our residents’ health, our environment and also our economy, since parks and trails help attract businesses and raise property values, and agriculture is still one of our county’s top industries.”
Fiscally responsible planning
The budget’s $175 million operations levy complies with New Jersey’s statutory tax levy cap and maintains the county’s workforce. It also continues the County’s annual support for Rowan College at Burlington County, the Burlington County Special Services School District and the Burlington County Institute of Technology, and increases funding for public safety, health and human services.
These investments are possible because of sound financial planning. The budget uses $10.5 million of the County’s $28.7 million in fund balance from 2022 to support increases in appropriations, but County officials anticipate finishing the year with a healthy surplus that will safeguard the county in the event of a prolonged economic downturn.
The budget uses $3.5 million in federal American Rescue Fund Act funds to offset revenue losses from the pandemic, a nearly $4 million reduction from the $7.47 million used by the County in 2022.
Property values increased nearly $3 billion in 2022 so the County’s financial position remains strong, an opinion affirmed by the Moody’s Investors Services in its most recent report maintaining the County’s outstanding Aa1 credit rating.
The report cited the County’s “strong financial management” and the steady growth of its fund balance since 2021.
“Maintaining our bond rating saves Burlington County taxpayers thousands of dollars annually through lower interest and financing rates,” Hopson said. “This rating and this budget are examples of the kind of smart and responsive government that helps make Burlington County a premier destination to live, work and raise a family.”