By KATIE MOEN
For Union County HAWK
COUNTY — The Union County Commissioners announced last week that there will be a zero-percent tax increase in the county’s executive budget for the third year in a row.
The county will still need to raise $367 million of the $510 million executive budget in taxes, officials said, but local residents will not have to foot any more of the expense than they have done in previous years.
According to the budget, salaries and wages account for $160.6 million of the grand total, down $18.2 million from last year.
The decrease can largely be attributed to the county’s 2021 decision to close the correctional facility in Elizabeth, which resulted in a loss of 190 paid positions.
County Manager Ed Oatman said the corrections department has been moved to the sheriff’s office, which has salaries and wages listed at $23.3 million, up $1.3 million from last year. The corrections division salaries are listed at $6.5 million, down $19.8 million from 2021, with an additional $18.1 million in expenses budgeted for corrections, an increase of $10.8 million.
The county’s employee group insurance accounts for another large chunk of this year’s budget, at $55.7 million, up $11.7 million from last year. The employee prescription plan is up another $1.4 million to $22.9 million.
“I would like to recognize that while it is not easy to always get there, our Union County team was once again able to provide all of the services, programs and help our residents in need, while maintaining this zero-percent tax increase another year in a row,” said Commissioner Chair Rebecca Williams. “Our residents will always be a top priority for us and I am looking forward to expanding our initiatives for an even better Union County.”
Included in those initiatives, Chair Williams said, will be the county’s rental-assistance program, which could help to prevent housing instability as federal eviction moratoriums related to the Covid-19 pandemic come to an end.
Under the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, eligible tenants can receive up to 12 months of assistance for unpaid back rent/utility bills and three months of forthcoming assistance. The funds will be awarded directly to landlords and utility providers on behalf of tenants who are approved for the grant.
“The Union County Emergency Rental Assistance Program provides significant economic relief to help low- and moderate-income households at risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability by providing temporary rental and utility assistance,” said Chair Williams. “The Commissioner Board is committed to doing all that we can to continue to assist those in need, and the rental-assistance program is an important part of those efforts.”
According to a recent press release issued by the Commissioners, applicants must reside in Union County, be able to prove loss of income due to Covid-19 and possess a current lease agreement or rental document. Applicants also must have a combined household income at or below 80 percent of the Area Median Income (approximately $65,087).
Once staff has a complete application with all required documentation, the application will be reviewed and submitted. Applicants will be provided with documented proof of their filed rental-assistance application for their landlord.
The county also intends to maintain its food drives and Covid clinics as residents continue to recover from the lingering effects of the pandemic.
“Still impacted from the effects of the pandemic and Hurricane Ida, residents across our county are still facing various issues such as unemployment and food hardships to needing property-tax or rental assistance,” said Commissioner Sergio Granados. “As Commissioners, we knew that we needed to keep the tax increase at zero percent to further help our constituents, and it was through the vision and advisement of the County Commissioners, as well as the planning and execution by County Manager Ed Oatman, who worked with his department heads to ensure we were able to come to this result.”
The County of Union will hold two special Fiscal Committee meetings in the coming weeks, both of which will be open to the public. Meetings will be held at 10 Elizabethtown Plaza in Elizabeth at 5 p.m. on consecutive Wednesdays, March 16 and March 23.
The meetings will be between the Fiscal Committee and the county departments and there will be no public commentary. Officials will review all of the documents submitted and the budget will be introduced on Thursday, April 7. Members of the public will have a chance to speak in regards to the budget on Thursday, May 12, before it is adopted.
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