Tax increased proposed in Jackson
A proposed property tax increase in Jackson County would pay for increased school safety personnel and community safety resources.
In his proposed budget presented Monday, May 21, Jackson County Manager Don Adams recommended that commissioners raise the tax rate from 37 cents per $100 of property value to 38 cents per $100 of property value. Each cent on the tax rate brings in an estimated $918,000, but the new expenditures associated with the proposed tax increase would total $1 million. Adams proposed to cover the extra cost through the general fund, with the result that the proposed budget includes less contingency funding than typical.
“We normally try to keep this at $200,000 to $300,000, but the budget is a little tight this year,” Adams said of the contingency fund, which the proposed budget would put at $183,000.
Commissioners began pondering a tax increase following the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. Follow-up discussions about the status of school safety in Jackson County revealed a need for improved security, more school resource officers and more access to counseling services.
Commissioners have already funded $400,000 for security cameras and monitors, $27,000 for safety-related architectural plans and $133,000 for school resource officers and the equipment they will require through the end of the fiscal year. The proposed budget would offer a permanent funding stream for six school counselors, four additional school resource officers and one juvenile detective to the county’s payroll. Those positions would cost an additional $667,000 yearly, and the remaining budget increase would cover $148,000 for debt service to the new Glenville-Cashiers Rescue Squad building and $191,000 to expand Harris Regional Hospital’s EMS service at Qualla from 12 hours a day to 24 hours a day.
It’s possible that grants could defray at least part of that total cost, Adams said, but he recommended that commissioners commit to spending the $918,000 from the additional 1 cent tax on safety issues, regardless of what happens with grant funding.
“This 1 cent should be dedicated to public safety and school safety needs,” he said. “If we find out in August we do get a couple hundred thousand dollars in grants, I would argue that first of all we offset that $87,000 that we’re having to spend here (above the $918,000 from the tax increase), but second of all that should be reserved to discuss other safety needs or school safety needs.”
Cashiers and Glenville residents could see an additional, smaller tax increase, as the proposed budget recommends that the fire tax for that district rise from 2.33 cents per $100 of property value to 2.43 cents per $100. The increase aims to help cover a desired $45,000 increase to the Cashiers-Glenville Volunteer Fire Department budget. According to Adams’ budget message, the current tax rate was not capable of covering expenses for 2017-2018 — the fund lost about $44,500 and now does not have a fund balance.
Jackson County last increased its tax rate in 2016, following the implementation of a post-recession property revaluation that brought a net decrease in county property values. On that occasion, commissioners voted to increase the rate from 28 cents per $100 to 37 cents per $100. The fire tax for southern Jackson County was implemented in 2015 following extensive community meetings and a strong case from the Cashiers Fire Department regarding a need for more reliable funding.
The budget is far from final. During meetings planned for 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday, May 31, and Friday, June 1, commissioners will hear from various entities and departments that would like to see the budget reflect something different than currently proposed. Adams told commissioners that Southwestern Community College will be one of those entities, as the school has other capital requests that are not included in the proposed budget.
Following the May 31 and June 1 meetings, commissioners will hold a public hearing to take input on the proposed budget at 2:55 p.m. Monday, June 4, in room A201 of the Jackson County Justice and Administration Building in Sylva. A final proposed budget will then be presented for adoption at 6 p.m. Monday, June 18.
Jackson County’s proposed 2018-19 budget totals $64.5 million, a 0.2 percent increase over the 2017-18 budget. Notable items in the budget include:
• Spending $546,600 to reinstate the career path program, which aims to retain and attract quality employees by offering competitive compensation and step increases.
• Adding several positions, including a human services director, part-time community social services assistant and full-time recreation programming coordinator. The proposal also recommends reclassifying various employees to higher-paid positions.
• Adding four school resource officers and one juvenile detective, and funding six additional school counselor positions.
• Borrowing $10 million to begin construction of a $19.8 million health sciences building at Southwestern Community College. Debt service would be funded from quarter-penny sales tax proceeds.
• Funding $191,000 to bring EMS coverage in the Qualla area from 12 hours per day to 24 hours per day.
• Increasing the fire tax for Cashiers-Glenville from 2.33 cents per $100 to 2.43 cents per $100 to cover expenses.