2021 State of the County and
February 16, 2021
presented: February 16, 2021
Good afternoon Chairwoman Kern, Board of County Commissioners and guests. For the first time in my tenure as county executive, I am not presenting this in-person due to the continuing COVID-19 restrictions.
Last year, I noted how we had turned the corner. The Atlantic County regional economy had experienced the best year since 1984. But we had no idea what was yet to come – an unprecedented global pandemic, which I would now like to address.
The first press release we issued about COVID-19 was on February 11, 2020 to advise residents to take precautions. At that time, there were 13 cases in the U.S. but none in New Jersey.
From the beginning of COVID-19, we have been proactive. About two weeks before our first confirmed case, we took actions by enhancing daily cleanings, installing hand sanitizing stations and prohibiting visitors to our nursing home and justice facility. We also suspended programs at our libraries. Most county offices were closed to the public but continued to provide essential services.
In less than a week after the first Atlantic County COVID-19 death was reported, we opened our first drive-thru test site and still continue to provide weekly testing.
Atlantic County was severely hard hit by COVID-19 with the highest unemployment in New Jersey. This underscored what we already knew about an over-reliance on a single industry and the importance of diversifying our economy. The National Aviation Research and Technology Park, headed by Howard Kyle, is crucial to our success now and in the future.
Atlantic County has retained its strong financial standing. Our top tier credit ratings were reaffirmed by Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors, citing our strong management and ongoing efforts to diversify our economy.
Lauren Moore and the Atlantic County Economic Alliance held its first Flight Plan Accelerator Program to foster the development of seven aviation-related companies. We hope to prepare individuals for careers in aviation as pilots, mechanics and engineers Very soon, the ACEA will be announcing a partnership with Israel Aerospace International for product testing at Atlantic City Airport. Just imagine where we would be if this pandemic had not stymied our efforts.
A lot can be blamed on COVID-19, but Atlantic County has risen to meet many of its challenges thanks to the dedication of our workforce.
At the top of this list is the extraordinary job of Pat Diamond and our Division of Public Health. They have worked around the clock to provide testing and contact tracing. Public Health has been providing vaccination clinics at Atlantic Cape Community College where they will soon be completing second doses before deploying our staff and resources to the mega site at the Atlantic City Convention Center. Nearly 30,000 Atlantic County residents have been vaccinated, designating us with one of the highest vaccination rates in the state.
I want to commend Michelle Savage and the Meadowview Nursing Home staff, which suffered unimaginable losses in the beginning of the pandemic. They persevered when long-term care facilities were hardest hit, providing care and compassion for residents and family members who were unable to visit.
Residents who depend on home delivered meals have been able to receive them thanks to the efforts of Alan Knudsen and Support Services. Despite the closure of senior centers and nutrition sites, Chris Wilson and the Division of Intergenerational Services have continued to assist seniors and those with disabilities.
Warden David Kelsey and his staff have done an extraordinary job. The jail implemented a 28-day quarantine protocol in the early days of the pandemic. Only four inmates have tested positive for COVID-19, a tremendous accomplishment. The jail earned 100% compliance in its annual inspection and was recognized as the “Facility of the Year” among more than 500 accredited correctional facilities.
In the area of Public Safety, Sheriff Eric Scheffler, Mike Fedorko and Vince Jones have been instrumental in distributing personal protective equipment from the state and supporting Public Health’s testing and vaccination efforts.
Jerry Griffin and the Division of Facilities have been tasked with coordinating daily cleanings, supplying sanitizing stations and plexiglass partitions. This is in addition to their normal activities.
Human Resources Director Liz D’Ancona and Purchasing Director Palma Conover continue to supervise the purchase and distribution of PPE, in addition to keeping employees informed of updated policies.
Planning Department Head John Peterson and County Engineer Mark Shourds have continued an aggressive road and bridge program, sometimes with skeleton crews, but without a hitch. Greg Brookins and Public Works have maintained the safety of our roadways while Parks and Recreation have enabled our citizens to continue to enjoy outdoor activities.
Forrest Gilmore and the Department of Family and Community Development have addressed an increased demand for welfare programs. They experienced a 41% increase for general assistance and food stamps, an 11% increase in child support cases, and a 50% increase in new medical applications. Forrest implemented limited in-person contact to protect the health and safety of customers and staff.
Fran Kuhn and the Workforce Development Board are offering job training opportunities to help the unemployed and dislocated workers. And the ACIA, headed by John Lamey, is administering $2 million in economic assistance for low to moderate income residents and businesses impacted by the pandemic.
County Treasurer Bonnie Lindaw and the Treasurer’s Office continue to maintain records of all COVID-19 expenses during a very unusual year.
County Counsel Jim Ferguson is working to consolidate our municipal courts to provide cost savings. But to be successful, we will need the cooperation of municipal officials, many of whom are reluctant to give up home rule.
I cannot fail to acknowledge the dedication of County Administrator Jerry Del Rosso and Deputy County Administrator Diana Rutala and the administration staff who work tirelessly. Thanks also to Linda Gilmore and her team for their indefatigable persistence in keeping us all informed.
Thanks to ALL our departments, divisions, Constitutional offices and staffs.
Now for the budget. The numbers I present today are based upon the information available. This excludes three important items: 1) the certified 2020 casino gross gaming revenues; 2) the 2021 election costs that may include additional expenses for voting machines available 10 days prior to each election (as per the Early Voting Bill); and, 3) any COVID-19 funding to offset $2.2 million in estimated expenses.
Our 2021 county budget is $232,954,114.45. Though this is an increase, $9.5 million is attributed to grant funds with $7.8 million of that for emergency rental assistance. The amount to be raised by taxation is $159.3 million, of which $1.2 million is included as refunds from the 2021 draft abstract of ratables. The largest increases include $1.55 million in pension contributions, $1.1 million in psychiatric payments, and the $2.2 million in COVID-19 expenses.
Our projected revenues are $50.8 million, down $2.1 million due to losses of $1 million at Meadowview from the suspension of admissions and $3 million from the Casino Revenue Fund due to the decision to close the casinos for three months and limit capacities thereafter.
The current value of the county is $32.2 billion. The county’s general purpose tax will be $0.493, an increase of .018 cents, less than 2 cents.
The increase in pension and psychiatric payments and the need to budget for additional COVID-19 costs account for 80% of the overall budget increase and approximately .015 cents of the tax increase, or less than a penny and a half. As you can see, the tax increase for the costs controlled by the county is negligible – only three-tenths of a penny (.003).
Our past practices of pay-as-you-go have put us in a more favorable position than most. Our low net debt, conservative management and long-term planning provide stability. Atlantic County continues to have some of the lowest property taxes in the state. Ranked highest to lowest, Atlantic County is 18th of 21 counties.
This message would be incomplete without my thanks to Chairwoman Maureen Kern and the Board of County Commissioners for your unwavering cooperation during this past year of sadness and uncertainty. No county executive could be more appreciative of their legislature than I am.
Together, we have demonstrated time and time again, that Atlantic County is here for our residents, to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable and a vision for a better future. I remain confident of the future and that our lives will improve. And Atlantic County will be there to lead the way.
Thank you and God Bless.