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Wednesday, 04 May 2011 19:29

No tax increase projected for Jackson

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No increase in taxes, more funding for the new public library, the same amount for the schools and a more than 3 percent overall drop in spending highlight Jackson County’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

Does the proposal simply sound too good to be true? Well, it’s not, interim County Manager Chuck Wooten reassured commissioners this week when presenting the fruit of Finance Officer Darlene Fox and his labors.

The proposed budget would total just more than $58 million; the general fund would come to just more than $49 million. A budget work session is set for 1 p.m. on Monday, May 9, when commissioners meet with the Jackson County Department of Social Services. At 2 p.m., they will walk through the proposed budget with Wooten to determine what, if any, changes they want to make.

“We just trimmed every department,” Fox explained before the meeting while passing out copies of the budget to reporters.

County employees won’t see a pay increase for the second consecutive year, and there is a net decrease in county employment by 17.1 positions (through elimination of open positions, consolidation of some duties, and privatizing some of the solid waste operations).

Additionally, Jackson County would give the school system the $235,000 extra in capital outlay administrators requested recently. School leaders said during a work session with commissioners that the money was necessary to fix roofs, buy security cameras and meet other basic facility needs.

School board members and administrators also requested commissioners hold steady at the same nearly $6.8 million amount budget this year, which is accomplished under the proposed budget.

The new Jackson County Public Library in Sylva would see funding increase from $500,000 to $675,000.

Mary Otto Selzer, who attends virtually every commission meeting, including this one, was pleased with the proposal. She is the co-chair of the Friends of the Library committee that raised nearly $2 million in donations and grants to furnish and outfit the new library. The former investment banker praised the working budget for containing sufficient funds to keep the library operating at 45 hours per week.

“The county and community have made a significant investment in this new facility and we want to have it open and accessible to serve the communities needs,” Selzer said. “The community had hoped our new library would be able to increase its hours of operation from 45 to 60 hours per week  — the minimum level recommended by the state — but this is wonderful news in view of the current financial climate.”

Selzer said Librarian Dottie Brunette is working to set the hours of operation for the new library complex (they are in process now of moving the libraries books and other resources to the building). Brunette, Selzer said, is hoping to offer at least a couple of days with evening hours to better serve working families.

Funding for nonprofits in Jackson County was held at current year levels. New dollars amounting to $7,000 was provided for Mountain Projects; Webster Enterprises has new funding in the amount of $10,000; and The Community Table, which requested $10,000, was recommended for $5,000.

“It’s not a surprise – it’s a tough economic climate,” said Amy Grimes, executive director of The Community Table, a group helping feed those in need. “Anything we can get in the form of financial assistance is a help.”

Wooten said the financial climate seems to be improving.

“Jackson County continues to feel the impact of the economic slowdown even though some signs suggest things may have bottomed out,” Wooten wrote in his introductory remarks to the proposed budget. “Foreclosures are up and building permits are down; but, overall, it seems we may be witnessing the beginning of a slow recovery.”

Wooten noted that while the ad valorem tax rate of 28 cents would remain the same, and that the fund balance (the county’s rainy day fund) would go untapped, “overall the projected ad valorem tax value and revenues are less than were budgeted in fiscal year 2010-2011.”

The projected tax base is $11,323,240,141, or $74.5 million less than the current fiscal year.

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