Ocean County’s property tax rate is expected to drop in 2023, officials said Wednesday during a discussion of the upcoming introduction of the county’s annual budget.
Commissioner Jack Kelly, who has shepherded the county spending plan each year since the passing of longtime Freeholder John Bartlett, said he expects to introduce a budget in the coming weeks which will cut the tax rate by 2 cents per $100 of real property valuation. The drop comes as the ratable base in Ocean County continues to rise as high-end housing replaces more austere bungalows along the county’s beaches and waterways.
“We’re in a strong financial condition,” Kelly told his fellow commissioners during a work session meeting. “The growth of our ratables are tremendous. The same tax rate would bring in more money, but we’re looking at how to square that not only with this year, but the future.”
Kelly said the county is looking to retire as much debt as feasible in this year’s budget while still accommodating a rate reduction. The reduction comes years after the board, led at the time by Bartlett, made a promise to residents that the county would reduce its property tax rate as ratables were rebuilt following the 2008 financial crisis and Superstorm Sandy four years later.
“Before he passed away, he made a promise that as our ratable base came back, we would reduce the tax rate,” Kelly said. “We’re doing what we promised, and we’re going to do it in a responsible way. We don’t want a tax rate that jumps back-and-forth.”
The county has reduced its property tax rate each year since 2017. Meanwhile, county government employs fewer people now than prior to a hiring freeze instituted during the “Great Recession” more than a decade ago, officials said, though layoffs were avoided through the freeze and attrition.
“The work has not stopped,” Kelly said.
Commissioner Joseph Vicari said the the tax rate should remain as stable as possible during a time of increasing inflation that has affected residents.
“Inflation is the biggest problem most people have,” Vicari said. “People work hard, do everything right way, and when they still can’t feed their families, that causes a lot of problems.”
The details of the county’s 2023 budget are expected to be discussed at the Feb. 22 work session and formally introduced to the public with a presentation at the March 1 regular meeting of the county commissioners.