The Morris County Freeholders ushered in 2014 with two familiar faces and one new person at Saturday’s annual reorganization meeting, along with a pledge to aim at not increasing county taxes.
Freeholder Tom Mastrangelo was sworn in for a second, three-year term on the board, Freeholder Doug Cabana began his sixth term, and Kathryn A. DeFillippo for her first term.
“I pledge to do all I can to maintain our quality of life and the excellent services this county has, while maintaining strict fiscal discipline,” DeFillippo said.
Incumbent Morris County Freeholders Cabana and Mastrangelo, along with their running mate, Roxbury Deputy Mayor DeFillippo, easily won election to the county governing body in November over their Democratic challengers.
Mastrangelo, of Montville, was also chosen as the board’s director for the second consecutive year and said the freeholders kept the promises they made at the start of 2013, including protecting the county’s AAA bond rating, reducing county government spending and holding the line on county taxes.
“Being named director for a second year is a privilege I do not take lightly,” Mastrangelo said. “I sincerely appreciate the confidence my colleagues have in me.”
The freeholders also took a pledge to work toward another year with no increase in county taxes.
“This year, for the first time in 15 years, Morris County taxes did not increase,” said Freeholder Hank Lyon, budget committee chairman who presented the proposal. “Stopping the rise in property taxes is the number one issue I hear from Morris County residents, and after delivering a zero in 2013, we should deliver another zero in 2014.”
“Further, we reduced the open space tax by $4 million. Combined, total property taxes decreased by almost 2 percent,” Mastrangelo said, adding that the freeholders plan to adopt a budget that is “prudent, sound and that provides a zero percent tax increase for the second year in a row.”
Freeholder John Krickus is also a member
of the budget committee and says Governor Chris Christie’s property tax reforms
are a key factor.
“In addition to the savings from salary cap and health benefit reforms, county government is being reorganized,” Krickus said. “When employees have retired or otherwise left county government, we have not filled positions or have filled positions with part time workers, as recently occurred at the county library.”
Freeholder David Scapicchio, of Mount Olive, was selected as the board’s deputy director for the second year and he is also a member of the capital budget committee. He said the freeholders will focus on debt reduction, as they did in 2013.
“By keeping capital expenditures under $25 million this year, and seeking the same level in 2014, county debt will be reduced to $246.5 million from more than $269 million just two short years ago … last year, we realized a debt reduction of approximately $6 million, “Scapicchio said. “We anticipate a similar reduction in our debt obligation in 2014 as we continue to protect the county’s AAA bond rating … At the same time we are focused on road and bridge projects that mayors and residents have told us are a critical priority.”
Scapicchio is the freeholder liaison to the Department of Planning and Public Works. He noted that about 21 miles of county roadways were paved in 2013 and that investing in the county’s infrastructure will continue for 2014.
“Last year, with our first tax cut in effect, the Department of Human Services, to which I am liaison, provided more than 400,000 meals to senior citizens and more than $2 million in support to out nonprofit agencies,” said Freeholder Hank Lyon. “I have no doubt we can continue to provide high quality services at an affordable price if we identify our priorities and then focus on achieving those goals in the most cost effective manner.”
Freeholder John Krickus said he is pleased to see some municipalities set goals of no tax increases as well.
“In 2013, Roxbury and Parsippany delivered a zero percent local tax increase for their residents,” Krickus said, “and at town reorganization meetings this year, I have heard elected officials in Hanover and Mount Olive say they, too, will look to do the same.”
Shared services with municipalities and nearby counties might be possible in 2014.
“We now have shared service agreements with 24 towns to provide them with emergency communications and dispatch services,” Cabana said. “With the upgrade of our county radio system infrastructure last year, we are now able to service many more partners.”
Cabana also mentioned the county’s Office of Health Management currently provides health services to Morris Plains, Denville and Boonton Township, and will look into “mutually beneficial shared services opportunities with other towns” this year.
“Last year, we unveiled a newly designed website that makes it easier for citizens to understand the workings of county government,” Freeholder John Cesaro said. “Morris County government is fully transparent, and in the year ahead, we will continue to enhance our openness.”
“Our triple AAA rating was once again affirmed by the rating agencies for the 39 year in a row demonstrating how well managed Morris County is,” said Cabana, the longest serving member of the freeholder board. “We are an example not just for New Jersey, but for the nation.”
In 2014, the freeholder public meetings will start at 7 p.m. A list of meeting dates can be found on the county government website,www.MorrisCountyNJ.gov.