A blog about living in Aberdeen, New Jersey.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Monmouth County Budget in the Works; Are You Being Served?

These are extraordinary times for making ends meet. We and our governments are all having to make tough choices in this awful economy. But be mindful that the cuts we choose to make are a short term relief to the wallet but may cost us in the long term. There's never a good time to replace that old roof that isn't leaking yet or to pay for long-term care insurance, at least not until the roof is leaking or your spouse needs to enter a nursing home. The same holds true for government.  Short term cuts to social welfare can resolve the balance sheet but promote the growth of gangs, reduce public safety, and lead to the deterioration of public infrastructure and eventually our society itself.

Based on a press release and reporting in APP, Monmouth County plans to adopt its 2011 budget on 24 March. Public hearings are underway. The budget is austere, as it should be given the circumstances. Note that the freeholders will have drawn $83 million from the county's surplus to meet their budget goals over the past two years. For this they blame plummeting state and local revenues. Ratables are down $7 billion in the past year alone due to the economy. The county's portion of property taxes is necessarily creeping up; it will soon be 24 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Experts say that the glossier the cover on a corporation's annual report, the warier the investor should be. There are a lot of holes in the county's press release about the budget, and the APP article only "explains" what the county has already outlined in its public statements. I see no research and lots of gaps. Here are some of the things I noticed.

While the county freeholders claim to be such budget wizards that no services will be cut this year, a protracted municipal hiring freeze has left 90 vacancies at the county level that are now being eliminated. I wonder what services those folks provided? What services were we supposed to receive from the Health Department's forsworn $335,000 allocation? Surely a $10.8 million cut across the board on county department budget lines will mean a loss of services to the average citizen. Who are they kidding?

What about the educational services our children are meant to receive at Brookdale Community College. The county is cutting $6 million in their funding, yet neither article explains what percentage of funding that would be. The county made cuts last year, too, as did the state. What is the freeholders position on supporting Brookdale? The county's press release doesn't emphasize the $6 M cut's effect on students, staffing, facilities, and community programs. No one apparently wants to interfere with Governor Christie's little vendetta against unions and educators. Let there be no doubt that state and county cuts are making the low-cost alternative education route considerably less so. If you thought your children could do two years at Brookdale and save money before they head off to a 4-year school, that reality is passing you by.

The Newark Star Ledger reported last August that Brookdale tuition cost would rise 4.4% to $118.50 per credit hour, the highest in the state and one of the highest in the country. The school explained at the time that a 10% reduction in state aid and a 12% increase in student enrollment were the primary causes of the increase. Keep in mind that NJ community colleges were founded on the premise that the state, county, and students would each fund a third of the costs, but as of August students were footing nearly 60% of the bill with no ceiling imposed on future hikes. Brace yourself for even higher tuition costs in the fall.

The freeholders want our county library system for the first time to pay them $2.4 million annually to fund indirect costs previously paid for by the county.  Since libraries are purchasing fewer books and magazine subscriptions lately anyway, this cost shift will inevitably translate into fewer computer terminals and reduced access to expensive online databases for your middle and high school students doing research projects. And reduced staffing of teen services. Keep in mind that everyone doesn't have Internet at home, so the jobless visiting a county library to file an online application and poor school kids doing after school research will have to vie for limited resources. (To read more about indirect costs, read Recommendation #2 in A Study of Public Library Development in Texas, Himmel & Wilson, Library Consultants, 15 July 2003,  (pp 44-45/90).)

The Monmouth County Park System is tapping the Open Space Trust Fund for an "additional contribution" of $1.3 million to aid the 2011 county budget crisis. That word "additional" suggests that this was done last year as well, seemingly institutionalizing this contribution to the state against the spirit of the public's will. Whatever they spend it on, the county will effectively be expending monies that would otherwise have gone to half a dozen grants to local municipalities for parks and land preservation, such as the Freneau monies Aberdeen won in 2010. The fund's policy manual makes it pretty clear that the county is not to use these dedicated monies to pay for general  budget line items related to park administration, so presumably the county's bean counters have devised a way to tap the Open Space Fund and make this redirection of monies fit the rules.

I hope everyone will take a moment and consider the county budget process this year. Some of you might even want to attend the public hearing set for later next month. It is more than a pocketbook issue.

UPDATE: The Monmouth County Board of Chosen Freeholders have lashed out at the President of Brookdale because he dared to criticize their decision to slash his school's county funding again this year. APP put the salacious accusations on the first couple of pages of its article, only including the explanations and justifications towards the end.

The man has headed the school for twenty years and is paid a salary only slightly higher than our schools superintendent. He is a highly desirable commodity and other campuses have tried to recruit him away from BCC, so the trustees increased his perquisites to keep him in place when he planned to relocate. So now that the school is world class, the board trashes him for his excessive perqs. It's like an episode of Entertainment Tonight. What a sleazy bit of political drama. This is just another example of short sightedness on our leaders' part. We're definitely not being served.


  1. Interesting take on the Brookdale President. The initial reaction is outrage over the perks, but you may be right, that these perks were rewards to keep the president, etc. but at the end of the day, he was hung out to dry for a reason, just can't put my finger on why.

  2. Put your finger on this as the "WHY"! $216,000 Salary may be realistic, but $$1,500 Monthly Housing Allowance, $42,815 Ford Explorer, Country Club Membership, $40,000 annually for his 2 kids college education ($267,000 so far) and average $10-15,000 Performance Bonus every year ($225,000 to date). Are you kidding?

  3. I'll keep my finger on what's right, thank you very much. The Chronicle of Higher Education published a late 2009 survey of community president salaries at 208 schools in 42 states and found base annual salaries between $88,250 and $321,823, depending on the size of the school's budget and student body. Back in 2007-2008, the Chronicle surveyed for total compensation packages of community college presidents at 64 of the 2-year schools and found a median package of $278,000. The highest package was over $600,000.

    Now keep in mind that Brookdale's president was planning to move to a four-year college position, where average salaries average more than $400,000 and can reach over $1 million, even at a state university. As I understand it, our president was highly successful in growing Brookdale and the board wanted to keep him from leaving for a state university campus in New York. Given the average salary at a state school, sounds like he took a serious hit by staying at Brookdale.

    I'm no fan of executive pay levels, but there is a game here and boards have to play it to be successful. You need to get off your high horse and stop with the shock and awe. It's childish and unproductive. It would have been appropriate to challenge his compensation package given the current economy, but threatening him with jail was absurd.

    So, now you've got a new president, one with no experience running a school. Seems like a nice enough guy. And I assume he'll do what the Freeholders and board ask.He's probably being paid just about the right amount. I assume he won't be getting a fancy car or club membership anytime soon.