Tax increase likely for Jackson residents
Jackson County residents can expect to see a two-cent tax increase in the coming fiscal year, rising from $0.36 to $0.38, if commissioners accept the proposed FY 2022-23 budget. Much of the revenue from that tax increase will go toward the construction of a new swimming pool .
“Previously it was thought that we would need almost 3 cents on the tax rate, but we’ve done our best to try and reduce that,” said County Manager Don Adams.
The proposed general fund budget for Jackson County is $82,292,740. This represents an 8.39% increase over the current year’s budget. The single largest expenditure for Jackson County is public safety, using up about 25%. Next in line is education at 24%, human services at 22% and general government at 17%. All other expenditures use less than 7% of the total budget.
The budget contains a one-step increase for all employees, which will cost $385,004 to implement. No cost of living adjustment is included in the proposal. Several stakeholders funded through the county will receive a 7.4% increase which matches the year end 2021 annualized Consumer Price Index overall increase.
Capital needed in the upcoming fiscal year will cost the county almost $2.5 million. Assorted new equipment will cost about $1 million and includes computers, servers, printers and software; equipment for garage, cleaning, grounds maintenance and recreation; law enforcement radios, cameras, a body scanner and emergency communication equipment.
“It is recommended that the majority of these expenses be delayed until after the audit is complete,” said Adams.
Eight new vehicles totaling $336,000 were approved for the sheriff’s office. While other vehicles are needed for county operations, Adams did not recommend purchasing those because of high costs and supply chain difficulties.
Necessary capital improvements will total more than $1 million and include repairs to the jail, Cashiers Code Enforcement decking, building repairs for the Cashiers Department on Aging, Cashiers Library repairs and one HVAC unit for the Cashiers Recreation Center. The county will also pay for a feasibility study for the Hwy 107 multi-use path in Cullowhee.
The adopted 2018-22 Facility Capital Improvement Plan sets aside funds for three major facility projects — the health department one-stop permitting center, animal rescue center and justice center renovations. The health department one-stop permitting center has been completed. The animal rescue center is scheduled for completion this summer. Justice center renovations will begin later this year after the newly elected sheriff and clerk of court are seated this fall.
The 2023-27 Facility Capital Improvement Plan will be completed in early FY23, but four projects are proposed to move forward while working on the new plan. A debt service payment of $1.9 million for the new pool, domestic violence shelter design to begin this summer, a parks and recreation trust fund application is pending for the construction of the Qualla pocket park and $75,000 for planning and design for the new splash pad facility in Cashiers.
Jackson County will allocate $8.6 million to the public schools for FY 22-23. This is a 2% increase from the previous fiscal year. Because the school system has received a significant amount of American Rescue Plan funds, as well as state funds, if state funds are not decreased, the proposed allocation to JCPS could lead to a fund balance increase. However, the actual impact on the public schools’ budget will not be known until the state budget is passed. For this reason, town staff recommended an additional 5.4% ($445,300) be reserved in a special contingency line item until the state budget is approved, some or all of which the school system would receive depending on the level of funding from the state. Combined, the total increase could be 7.4% ($623,929) which matches the year end 2021 annualized consumer price index overall increase.
The proposed budget allocates $2.5 million to Southwestern Community College, a 5.5% increase from the previous fiscal year, and $1.2 million to the Fontana Regional Library System, which operates both the Jackson County Library and the Albert Carlton Library.
This budget season, the Town of Sylva requested an increase in county funding for its fire department in order to have paid members on staff 24/7. The increased number of calls and property coverage necessitated this change. Additionally, the department provides mutual aid to other departments in the county. The town contracted Brigade Consulting, LLC to recommend a staffing model for its fire department. The report gave multiple options for the department but ultimately recommended a 24/72 shift with 11 full-time employees. After discussions between town and county, the county has decided to fund eight paid personnel. This will cost an additional $643,212 or a total of about $1.1 million.
Most nonprofits will be funded at the current FY 2021-22 levels. However, due to rising hotel room costs, it is recommended that HERE receive a 7.4% ($11,384) increase.
Jackson County will receive $8.5 million in American Rescue Plan funds. Of that, about $4.5 million remains to be allocated. County staff recommend prioritizing broadband, human services nonprofit partnerships and the 2023-2027 Facilities Capital Improvement plan.
“I would like to extend my appreciation to all county employees who work extremely hard to provide the necessary services that make Jackson County a great place to live,” said Adams.
The public hearing for the proposed budget is scheduled for 5:55 p.m. June 7.