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TRENTON, N.J. - Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders last night endorsed the proposed spending plan put forth by County Executive Brian M. Hughes by voting unanimously to adopt the 2011 county budget. The $286 million spending plan holds the county tax rate to the same as last year – 48 cents per $100 of assessed property value -- while reducing the overall tax levy to $221 million. That rate is well below the 54-cent tax rate Hughes inherited when he first took office in 2004.

Hughes told the freeholder board during his annual budget presentation on Feb. 8, 2011, that within the last two years, the County has been hit by the steepest drop in revenue in history, a 5.2 percent decline. But Mercer has actually improved its fiscal strength in that time through successful negotiations with several employee unions that froze wages, the sale of the County’s Geriatric Center, and the replenishment of the County’s surplus. “I believe my administration has done what it takes to stabilize County government, and we will not burden our residents with a new raise in taxes this year,” Hughes said.

A resident’s tax rate will rise or fall depending on his or her municipality once the tax rate is equalized. County taxes are equalized to reflect the difference between municipal property assessments and property market values, meaning the actual rate many property owners are charged will increase.

Hughes said the County surplus has been built back up to $22 million, or about 7 percent of the total budget. He said the County’s Open Space Tax, which was scaled back last year from 3 cents to 2 cents, will remain at 2 cents to save taxpayers about $4.8 million.