(Hackensack) – Homeowners in Bergen County received some welcomed news yesterday when the Board of Chosen Freeholders adopted the 2018 county budget, without a tax increase. Through responsible budgeting over the last four years, County Executive James J. Tedesco and the Board of Chosen Freeholders were able to deliver a budget that does not raise taxes, while preserving and enhancing vital county services for Bergen County’s nearly 1 million residents. Wednesday’s adoption of the budget by the Freeholders comes after a series of 19 meetings with County Departments to review the budget line-by-line and trim an additional $200,000 in savings.
“The budget we passed this evening is the result of a vision that began almost four years ago by our County Executive,” said Freeholder Chairman Tom Sullivan. “Working together, Jim Tedesco laid out a blueprint for how we would approach the budgeting process on a long-term basis. The results are evident and impressive. Everyone who worked on this project, and every resident of Bergen County has reason to celebrate. We passed a budget without a tax increase, while continuing to support policies and programs critical to maintaining and improving the quality of live for every resident of Bergen County.”
New Bridge Medical Center, formerly known as Bergen Regional Medical Center, is already having a positive impact on the county budget and improving health outcomes in the process. The county anticipates $4 million in revenue from hospital operations in 2018, nearly double the amount received in 2017 under the former operator. In July, Bergen County officials approved a new 19-year agreement to operate New Bridge Medical Center, bringing in Care Plus Bergen to run the hospital, with Care Plus NJ and Integrity House providing their years of expertise in behavioral health and addiction services respectively, and Rutgers University providing acute care to patients.
“Saving and revitalizing New Bridge Medical Center will be the enduring legacy of County Executive Tedesco, and all seven members of the Board of Chosen Freeholders for the next 19 years,” said Freeholder Tracy Zur. “We’re already seeing an expansion of services and tighter controls on quality of care. The financial benefit to the residents of Bergen County is the “icing on the cake” New Bridge is already a leader in addiction and behavioral services and will continue to play an integral role in fighting the opioid epidemic and tackling the stigma associated with mental illness.”
As part of the priority to support mental health, the county’s mental health budget received a 5% increase in 2018, marking four consecutive years of increases since Tedesco took office. The increased funding allows the county to strengthen its existing relationships with a network of non-profit partners to provide increased services such as psychiatric emergency screening, counseling for individuals with mental illness, and addiction services. Bergen County also continues to lead the county in outreach and education efforts, increasing Mental Health First Aid training for individuals, schools, law enforcement, and other organizations, with plans already underway to expand into Youth Mental Health First Aid for Bergen County’s students and younger residents in 2018.
“This budget is a roadmap of where we’re going, and what we want to prioritize”, said Chair Pro Tempore Mary Amoroso. “I’m so proud to say that we’re all pulling in the same direction for the good of all the residents of Bergen County. The physical and mental health of our community is of paramount importance, and this budget reflects that fact. It really takes a village, or in this case a County, and I’m glad we can foster partnerships with Bergen County’s network of non-profit mental health agencies to work collaboratively on addressing mental health.”
The 2018 budget also continues to provide support to county addiction treatment and recovery services to address the opioid epidemic, working in concert with New Bridge Medical Center’s programs and expertise wherever possible. Programs such as Operation Helping Hand in concert with the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office aims to get people struggling with addiction into treatment instead of jail, and state grants have allowed the Bergen County Sheriff to implement new treatment programs to break the cycle of addiction for those who are incarcerated. The 2018 budget includes strong and stable funding to the Office of Alcohol and Drug Dependency and allows for continued capital improvements at Spring House, a county-run women’s clinical halfway house on the campus of New Bridge Medical Center that has helped hundreds of Bergen County women overcome alcohol and drug addiction over the past 30 years.
Similarly, County Executive Tedesco and the Freeholders have made providing services to Bergen County’s veterans a priority, which has led to a partnership between New Bridge Medical Center and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs that will allow local veterans to seek services in Paramus instead of driving to the VA hospital in East Orange. Over the past four years the Tedesco administration has fully staffed and supported the Bergen County Office of Veterans Services, which now offers a robust array of services to veterans such as assistance with benefits and pensions, informational assistance on obtaining papers, records, and medals, as well as providing education, training, and job placement support.
The 2018 budget also continues the County’s commitment to education, with a full restoration of funding to Bergen Community College (BCC) that had been slashed under a previous administration, and expansion of additional programs and partnerships. One such example is the Applied Technology High School of the Bergen County Technical School district (BCTS), where students can take classes on the BCC Campus in science and technology and get their high school degrees while simultaneously obtaining college credit. With the full support of the County Executive and Freeholders, BCC and BCTS continue to serve as statewide and national leaders in education, particularly in the careers of the future in STEM and Bergen County’s burgeoning healthcare industry.
In addition, Bergen County continues to lead the way in educational, vocational, and other programs for individuals with disabilities. The 2018 budget continues to increase funding to the Bergen County Special Services School district, and programs such as Project SEARCH, a partnership between the county, several non-profit partners, Holy Name Medical Center and HackensackUMC to teach transferable job skills to students with differing abilities. For the Bergen County Class of 2017, the Project SEARCH employment rate 90%--higher than both the national average for the program, and the rate of employment for this population in New Jersey.
“A large reason why people want to live in Bergen County are our top-notch and nationally recognized schools,” said Freeholder Steve Tanelli. “Our commitment to education is an investment that allows our schools to not only continue to train our next generation of leaders, but also focus on teaching students the science and technology skills that our employers are looking for.”
Maintaining and improving the County’s infrastructure has similarly been a priority of Tedesco and the Freeholders. Through a combination of capital funds, state and federal grants, and cooperation with municipalities, the 2018 budget includes funding for dozens of road resurfacing projects, bridge and culvert replacements, pothole fixes, and safety enhancements to 440 miles of county roads, intersection improvements, and projects such as adaptive and intelligent traffic signal projects in Hackensack and Fort Lee that will help alleviate congestion in two of Bergen County’s busiest corridors.
The county’s commitment to the safety of Bergen County’s students has impacted the public safety budget as well. The 2018 budget includes funding for state-of-the-art mapping software that can be used in the event of a school incident, or any facility lockdown event, to provide first responders with real-time positioning data of law enforcement units and rescue workers within a building. In addition, the County Law and Public Safety Institute (LPSI), which has expertly trained local and regional law enforcement and first responders for decades, secured a revenue-generating agreement to lead the mandatory safety training required for all United Nations diplomats and personnel deploying overseas. This agreement helps support the costs of other county safety and security initiatives throughout the year.
Given the important role that parks play in our quality of life, County Executive Tedesco and the Board of Chosen Freeholders provided significant support for the County Department of Parks in this budget. County Executive Tedesco has made the County Parks System a top administration priority, with improvements to the parks and golf courses resulting in increased visits and revenue generation has been reinvested into the parks. This focus has led to the development of additional recreation and entertainment amenities such as Winter Wonderland at Van Saun, summer concerts and movies, and Field Station: Dinosaurs in Overpeck. Restoring full funding of the Open Space Trust Fund has also allowed the county to acquire additional land to add to the Bergen County Park System, as well as to make dozens of municipal and county park improvements, historic preservation grants, floodplain protection.
“As a governing team, the County Executive and the Freeholders understand that having a robust and well-run park system improves the quality of life for our residents and by extension raises the value or all of our homes by making Bergen County a more-desirable place to live and raise a family,” said Freeholder Vice Chairwoman Germaine Ortiz. “Our parks provide us a much-needed respite from the hustle and bustle of life in Bergen County. We look forward to continuing to make investments in our Parks system that improve the quality of life for all of our residents.”
County Executive Tedesco and the Freeholders added that the 2018 budget is a culmination of the past four years of responsible budgeting and fiscal planning, which has directly led to Bergen County maintaining its Aaa-bond rating, the highest offered by rating agency Moody’s. Refinancing of the county’s older bonds at lower interest rates has saved millions in interest costs for the county as well as municipalities that partner with the county through the Bergen County Improvement Authority.
Similarly, the county has increased its focus on saving taxpayer funds by sharing services with each of Bergen County’s 70 municipalities. Since 2015 new shared service agreements have been inked with nearly every municipality, and dozens of school boards and independent authorities, to make use of the County’s vehicle maintenance garage in Paramus and borrow county-owned emergency and non-emergency equipment, saving municipalities from having to purchase these services on the open market at a greater expense.
The Bergen County Health Department has also initiated shared service contracts with an ever-increasing number of towns for services like animal control, health officer, restaurant inspections, and flu vaccinations, saving towns money through economies of scale and allowing the County to take a stronger countywide role in public health, wildlife management, and prevention of the flu and mosquito borne illnesses. In addition, the Bergen County Division of Consumer Affairs has continued a revenue generating agreement with Passaic County, allowing the division to protect the entire region from waste, fraud, and abuse.
“While Bergen County is home to 70 municipalities with their own histories and unique needs, we are one county. We believe that county government should lead the way in helping our communities save money, while continuing to efficiently and effectively deliver the services our residents need,” said County Executive Tedesco. “This budget reflects our priorities, keeping taxes flat and supporting the programs and services that make a difference in the lives of nearly one million residents of Bergen County. I am proud of the work we’ve done to ensure that Bergen County continues to be the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”