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With sales tax strong, Jackson considers budget increase

The 2020-2021 budget Jackson County passed in June was a slimmed-down plan adopted in reaction to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis — but commissioners approved it with the understanding that some dollars could be added back in later depending on how finances looked come January.

Now, January is right around the corner, and during a Dec. 10 work session commissioners discussed a proposal to add $624,000 to the $66.5 million budget.

The county’s finances are looking much brighter than they were in June, especially as it relates to sales tax revenue. Back in the spring, the county had assumed a 2 percent reduction in sales tax revenues from the amount budgeted for 2019-2020, representing an 8 percent drop from actual collections that year. However, sales tax receipts for the first quarter of the new fiscal year — July through September — came in nearly 17 percent higher than the $10.48 million received in the same period last year, and nearly 25 percent above the amount originally budgeted for the first quarter of this fiscal year.

Anticipating a drop in sales tax proceeds, the adopted 2020-2021 budget left out the annual cost-of-living increase for county employees and held funding level for Jackson County Public Schools, Southwestern Community College and Jackson County Libraries.

Now, commissioners are considering granting SCC and the library the 2 percent increase they’d originally requested, as well as the 2 percent cost-of-living increase for county employees. In lieu of a 2 percent general increase for the public schools, the proposal would provide a $500 one-time bonus to all school system employees. The school board would also be encouraged to develop a new teacher pay supplement program to present as part of the 2021-2022 budget process.

“This is a really good opportunity to look at teacher supplements and look at that whole program,” said County Manager Don Adams during the work session.

The proposal would provide an additional $23,000 for the library, $41,000 for SCC and 201,000 for county employees’ cost-of-living increases. The public schools would receive $359,000. The total six-month estimated cost could be covered by increasing budgeted sales tax revenues by 7 percent, and the total recurring annual expense of $825,000 could be covered with a 9 percent increase in sales tax over that budgeted this fiscal year.

“Even if we do not continue to trend $24.78 percent above budgeted amounts, it is reasonable to believe that a 7 to 9 percent increase is sustainable,” said Adams.

Commissioners are also considering a one-time bonus to county employees that would come from the $1.8 million in CARES Act funding that the county received earlier this year. Of that, $454,000 was distributed to municipalities. The county spent $82,000 on plumbing for the detention center and $56,000 for flooring there, with an additional $92,000 to support video arraignment and video pleas. However, the bulk of the money — $1.134 million — went to reimburse the county for money it had paid out in salaries to public safety and health workers.

Of the reimbursed monies, $909,000 remains in the county’s contingency fund. Because the funds were already spent initially for an approved use — public safety salaries — there are no longer any restrictions on how they can be spent.

Adams proposed using $413,000 of the $909,000 for a one-time bonus to county employees in the amount of $100 per month served since the county’s state of emergency was declared March 16. Employees who had worked for the county that entire time would therefore receive a total of $1,000. The amount would be pro-rated for part-time employees.

“This is a bonus,” said Adams. “This is recognizing all of our employees, whether it be the health department employees who are working on the frontlines or our janitorial housekeeping staff, and then working hard to provide great service.”

The proposal would leave $496,000 of CARES Act reimbursements in contingency to cover any future needs that should arise as the pandemic continues.

“No knowing what’s coming down the corner, it’s better to hold off,” said Commissioner Mark Jones. “If things continue as they are and the vaccine gets to us in a timely manner and things calm down, we can discuss and revisit some of these funds.”

Commissioners' first opportunity to take action will be the regular meeting slated for 1 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15. If the bonuses are approved, county employees would receive them Dec. 18.

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