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Wednesday, 09 February 2011 20:20

Jackson tackles money shortfall

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Times are tough, and in response Jackson County department heads have been ordered to reduce spending by 3 percent between now and June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.

Additionally, a hiring freeze will continue and the use of part-time employees will be curtailed as much as possible to save dollars, interim County Manager Chuck Wooten told the Jackson County Board of Commissioners this week.

Every county in North Carolina has braced for upcoming cuts as a result of the state’s $3.7 billion shortfall. But Jackson County is having problems just getting through the next few months, at least in terms of meeting its projected revenues and expenditures for the current fiscal year.

Wooten, who took over the county’s top paid slot in January on a temporary basis after serving as Western Carolina University’s finance officer for 30 years, crunched the budget numbers and determined Jackson County was facing a shortfall of its own: $336,004, to be exact.

Property taxes haven’t been collected at the rate projected, and the failure of residents to pay vehicle taxes compounded the problems, he said. Jackson County’s budget for this year assumed a property tax collection rate of 95.4 percent. The actual collection rate is running about .62 percent behind.

Wooten instituted these additional steps:

• Travel to conferences and for professional development will be approved only when it is necessary to maintain a license or certification. All travel must be approved in advance, and out-of-state travel is out, unless it involves licensing.

• Equipment not yet purchased has to be approved by Wooten before being bought, and the purchase won’t be approved unless it is absolutely necessary.

• Employees have been asked to avoid stockpiling supplies, and to buy only what is needed to get through the year.

County employees must submit lists of budget savings to Finance Officer Darlene Fox by Feb. 11, according to a memorandum sent this week by Wooten to department heads.

“In addition to these immediate budget actions, I will be evaluating other county policies and practices to determine if budget savings are available by implementing modifications,” he wrote.

Wooten warned county employees that the new budget for fiscal year 2011-12 would likely reflect an expected three to five percent reduction in tax and locally generated revenues, and to plan accordingly.

“It is apparent that our tax base will not increase at levels similar to past years,” Wooten wrote.

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