ELIZABETHTOWN - County Manager Daniel Palmer is in favor of investing in technology while keeping taxes low.
Palmer, who was first appointed to the position in August, delivered his first State of the County address at the Essex County Board of Supervisors meeting Feb. 2.
"The faith you have shown in me by allowing me to hold this position means a great deal," said Palmer.
Recognizing a "difficult economic climate," Palmer said the county must work hard to meet people's needs efficiently.
"In a rural area such as ours almost every service from cradle to grave comes from or starts out of County government," said Palmer, explaining the need for government services increases in poor economic times.
With a property tax rate of less than $2 per thousand, Palmer commended the county for being among the lowest in the state. Still, he recognized that the combination of town, school, and county taxes was weighing heavily on property owners.
"We still have to work and deliver services at the lowest cost possible," said Palmer. "We must do more with less. I believe we have done that in many cases."
Palmer, who also acts as director of Information Systems, said one way to accomplish that goal was through "E-Government," or using the internet as a way for constituents to receive information and services. He explained that residents can now check their taxes, review the County budget and meeting proceedings, and find contact information for government officials online.
"I am proud of the work done by the employees of Information Systems (department) as we have moved forward in this area."
Expanded broadband internet access would be crucial for making e-government effective, said Palmer, and adding staff in the Information Services department may be necessary to assist each town in communicating more of their information online.
Palmer pointed how Essex County was finding alternative sources of revenue to fund some of its major capital projects.
Bond payments concluded in 2008 for a $4 million project to renovate the Essex County Courthouse, which were funded mainly by mortgage tax proceeds. Also, the payments for the $35 million jail and Public Safety building were being offset by a recent contract that pays Essex County $98 per day for each federal inmate housed there.
"Potentially, if we are able to maintain the 50 inmates a day, then the entire cost of the bond could be paid from that revenue source as opposed to the property tax," said Palmer.
Most recently, the board approved a transfer tax of $2 per thousand. Palmer estimates the tax will generate $600,000 per year for the county, almost entirely defraying bond payments for its proposed $9 million emergency radio system, a project he said is long overdue.
Palmer also advocated for capping property tax, but said it should obligate the state to fund mandated services.
"Government agencies need to learn to operate within boundaries," he said, "this applies to all of us; county, town, village and schools."
He also said the county should not rely on federal bailout money that wasn't guaranteed.
"I appeal to the Board to join me in moving forward. Standing still is no longer an option," said Palmer, "To stand still is to fall behind."