Warren County Freeholders say no to additional prosecutor’s office staffing

Published: 11:09 PM EST Jan 16, 2013   Updated: 9:17 AM EST Jan 17, 2013

A combination of declining revenues and unfunded mandates is creating quite a budget headache for Warren County officials.

As a result, the Warren County Freeholders are facing many tough funding decisions in the effort to keep taxes in check as they develop the pending 2013 county budget.

During the latest in a series of ongoing budget meetings held Wednesday night, the Freeholders nixed a request by the Warren County Prosecutor’s Office to increase its staffing by two investigators.

Prosecutor Richard Burke made the request for two additional investigators due to his office not having the staff needed to fully carry out unfunded state mandates, including ones pertaining to school security and counter-terrorism.

The Freeholders ultimately decided to not approve the request, citing a cost of more than $200,000 to cover the salaries and benefits of two new investigators.

While nixing the request for two new investigators, the Freeholders did agree to fill two vacant detective positions at the prosecutor’s office, as well as purchase two new vehicles. The Prosecutor’s Office currently has 18 vehicles in its fleet with over 100,000 miles, which the Freeholders acknowledge calls for a yearly replacement schedule. In the past, vehicles had been purchased with moneys from a forfeiture fund, a practice that will no longer take place going forward, Burke said.

In an interview following the meeting, Freeholder Director Jason Sarnoski said every department is being asked to hold the line on spending, both in operating and capital costs.

Sarnoski said the county is facing a dilemma of declining revenues from reductions in state and federal funding and a continuing drop in the county’s ratable base since 2008 following the housing market collapse.

Sarnoski noted a $2.5 million shortfall at the county-run Warren Haven Nursing Home caused by declining revenues, most notably in Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements. The shortfall is occurring despite the home holding the line on expenses, he said.

As a result, the Freeholders are seeking bids on the possible privatization of the 180-bed home’s housekeeping, laundry and food services.

Warren Haven Nursing Home will be the focus of the Freeholders’ next budget session scheduled for this Saturday at 9 a.m.

Sarnoski said since much of the budget process is still being worked out, it is too soon to project a county tax levy or rate for 2013.

Six more budget sessions are scheduled to take place between this Saturday and Feb. 9.