New Macon commissioner offers solution to planning stalemate

With the advent of new leadership for commissioners, Macon County’s planning board could undergo a metamorphosis into what’s being dubbed a truer “advisory” role.

In recent years, the planning board has been a magnet of negativity for factions on both sides of the land planning issue.

Kevin Corbin has been the new chairman of the Macon County Board of Commissioners for less than a month, but has already identified land-use planning as one of the county’s most pressing issues. A date has not yet been settled on for the board’s annual retreat where the topic will be discussed.

Corbin was appointed to the county board to replace Brian McClellan, who resigned following his second DWI arrest in two years. Corbin was elected to the leadership seat by his fellow four commissioners the same week shortly after McClellan stepped down.

The chairman has just one vote but does have real power to steer the board’s agenda and structure meetings. Corbin, a Republican from Franklin, isn’t new to the county’s political sphere. He served for two decades as a member of the Macon County Board of Education. And, like father like son: Corbin’s Dad, Harold, served as chairman of the commission board from 1998 to 2002.

Other issues Corbin wants reviewed during the retreat include economic development initiatives, school needs and the county’s budget for the next fiscal year.

Corbin on Monday said he believes that the planning board has become polarized by its members’ fundamentally different views. Commissioners, he said, must assume more prominent roles in the land-planning arena for meaningful progress on planning to take place.

“I think it’s a tough balance,” Corbin said. “But I really do believe there’s a way to have sensible regulations without stopping construction and real estate.”

The new chairman equated land planning to the delicate task of holding a wet bar of soap. Squeeze too hard, the soap squirts from your hand. Hold the bar too loosely and it falls from such a tepid grip.

Corbin wants commissioners simply to receive recommendations from the planning board, not written ordinances ready for adoption or rejection. Commissioners instead would hammer out tricky details; the county attorney would prepare the actual document.

This would remove some of the spotlight from planning board members, Corbin said, and place the pressures where they more rightfully belong — on commissioners. It’s commissioners who’ve been duly elected to make these decisions. Planning board members, in contrast, are community volunteers appointed to their positions by commissioners.

Besides, commissioners ultimately approve any ordinance drafted by the planning board, and in the process end up rewriting portions of it anyway — usually repeating the same debate that already played out at the planning board level.

Where would that leave the construction guidelines adopted by the planning board after great public strife? The guidelines are the result of a two-year effort by the planning board to write a steep slope ordinance. But following dissent on the planning board and perceived lukewarm support from county commissioners, the full ordinance was replaced with more basic construction “guidelines.” Commissioners have been holding the proposed guidelines from the planning board for some three months without any visible signs of action.

Corbin wants those suggested guidelines and the county’s subdivision and soil and erosion ordinances reviewed by Attorney Chester Jones. There is redundancy plus, possibly, needed changes such as what’s involved in the rules for subdivision road building, Corbin said.

In this brave new world, commissioners would clearly and publicly guide Attorney Jones, Corbin said. A prime example would be the actual slope percentages when it comes to cut and fill rules in road building: commissioners would decide on a percentage they find acceptable, not the attorney.

On other issues, Corbin said:

• Macon County is in “very good shape” financially. That said, this Republican-controlled board will look for areas in which to make additional cuts. This could be difficult to accomplish because the historically fiscally conservative board has reduced the county budgets by an overall 15 percent already as a result of the recession.

Also, because of ongoing national, state and local economic maladies, residents’ basic needs are increasing: real help, in the form of additional county dollars, might need funneling toward assisting with heating, food and so on, Corbin said.

“We may find ourselves in a place where we have to support these things aggressively,” he said.

• The Macon County Schools will need financial help, too. Federal funding, up to $2 million worth, has dried up. “You increase what you spend or reduce what you do,” Corbin said, adding he opposes any budget reductions that would hit teachers and teacher assistants. Macon County might look at some one-time spending options for the schools, such as helping replace aging computers, Corbin said.

• Economic development efforts must press forward regardless of whether such efforts bear immediate fruit or, more likely in this woeful economic climate, don’t.

Corbin said that new county economic development leader Tommy Jenkins would discuss planned efforts and economic hopes

Late-breaking idea to merge gym and auditorium proves short-lived

An expected rubberstamp by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to build a new auditorium and gym at Smoky Mountain High School took a brief — but wild while the ride lasted — turn this week.

Commissioners have already expressed support for the $10.5 million project and by all indications, were poised to sign off this week on a $500,000 architectural contract.

Commissioner Doug Cody instead suggested that the county’s leaders give consideration to an even grander concept. Cody said he’d been waking up early in the mornings lately stewing over. Cody suggested combining the gym and auditorium into a multi-purpose arena that could host events with the potential to draw tourists.

“I’m asking the indulgence of the school board and my fellow commissioners here to explore that option,” Cody said. “A high school play isn’t going to fill your hotels, it is not going to fill your restaurants.” But, an events arena might, he said.

Cody’s suggestion received the welcome of a bottle fly landing on a newly baked cake. School board members, sitting in the audience with county school administrators, assumed their best blank expressions, but some unhappy murmurs erupted.

Commissioner Joe Cowan spoke out against the idea, saying that chorus, band and theater students deserve their own fine arts center just as much as athletes deserve a gym.

“We’ve got a plan here that’s been in the making for 35 years. It looks good; it’s what the school board says that they want,” Cowan said.

When everything shook down, commissioners simply voted 5-0 to approve the construction designs as originally presented by educators. Cody ultimately joined in the vote to approve the design contract.

“You know when you’re whipped,” a visibly frustrated Cody said.

Cody wasn’t left totally high and dry on his proposal. Fellow GOP party member Commissioner Charles Elders did attempt to place girders under his sinking colleague, asking forcefully but somewhat obscurely: “This is a bad economy … when are we going to bounce out of it, and who is going to pay for it?”

In an interview after the meeting, School Board member Elizabeth Cooper emphasized to The Smoky Mountain News that her board’s members did deeply appreciate the county chipping-in the required funds. Her fellow board member, Ali Laird-Large, said she was “ecstatic” that the project can now move forward.

Do-over an option in Jackson tourism spat

It’s not too late for Jackson County leaders to go back to the drawing board on a state bill that consolidates the county’s two separate tourism agencies.

Commissioners have found themselves in the hot seat over a bill that would do away with the Cashiers Travel and Tourism Association and instead merge it with a single countywide entity. Cashiers tourism leaders have decried the plan. They argue that Cashiers needs its own tourism agency — with its own funding stream — to cater to its own unique visitor demographic apart from the county as a whole.

Those who support a merger believe it would be more effective, eliminating the duplication that currently exists and putting the money to wiser use.

The idea to merge the Cashiers tourism agency with the greater Jackson County Travel and Tourism Association was embedded in a bill to raise the room tax on overnight lodging from 3 to 6 percent. Raising the room tax was the chief objective of the bill and was supported by the majority of commissioners. But the origin of other parts of the bill is murky and has been blamed in part on a legislative mix up.

N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, appeared before the Jackson County commissioners this week to let them know the bill can be changed if they don’t like it. Haire even took the prerogative to bring a new, marked-up version of the bill that would undo the changes made by the previous bill passed this summer.

That seemed to irk at least one commissioner, who asked Haire why he would bother drafting changes to the bill before commissioners officially decided whether they wanted any changes. Commissioner Doug Cody was confused how the bill had been preemptively rewritten.

“Who is the author of this?” Cody asked Haire of the new version.

Haire said he took the initiative to revise the bill based on feedback he’d gotten. Feedback from whom, Cody wondered.

“I didn’t realize we were doing an opinion survey of what changes we want to see,” Cody said.

“If you don’t like it, we will throw it in the waste paper basket,” Haire said of the new version.

It became clear that in Cody’s eye, Haire had jumped the gun with new language before the majority of commissioners reached a consensus on what to do.

“I think this needs some work,” Cody said.

County Manager Chuck Wooten portrayed it as a miscommunication. Wooten said he passed along the concerns raised at the last commissioners meeting over some aspects of the bill. Haire perhaps thought the concerns were universally shared by the commissioners when in fact the only commissioner vocalizing any concerns has been Commissioner Mark Jones, who works in the Cashiers tourism industry and sits on the Cashiers tourism board.

“I believe Mr. Jones is the only one that spoke up as having these concerns,” said Wooten.

Commissioner Charles Elders said commissioners need to decide collectively how, if at all, the bill that passed should be changed.

“We need to get our thoughts and recommendations together of what we would like to see,” Elders said.

Haire said he intended the new language to simply be a “starting point.”

While commissioners said Haire was premature in penning a new bill, Haire’s point was clear. The bill can be changed — and that lands the ball and all its political repercussions squarely back in the commissioners’ court.

Until now, the county had blamed at least part of the controversy on an unintentional hiccup in the legislative process: the bill that ultimately passed in Raleigh was not what the county initially asked for.

Haire didn’t intentionally set out to introduce and get passed a different bill than what county leaders wanted. The county failed to make its request in time last spring. By the time they asked Haire for a bill to increase the room tax from 3 to 6 percent, the deadline for introducing new bills had passed. So Haire looked around for a similar bill to piggyback on. He found one from Alleghany County, which was also looking to raise its room tax, and tagged Jackson County’s name onto it as well.

But in the process, the language didn’t come out quite right, Haire said.

Commissioners had partly disowned themselves from some of the controversial parts of the bill — instead directing blame at a bureaucratic system of lawmaking.

But, Haire now says it is no problem to change it — putting commissioners on the spot to either stand behind the bill in its current form or tell Haire how they want it changed.

“I hope we can get it the way we eventually want it,” Haire told commissioners helpfully.

Haire did explain that the state’s travel and tourism branch wants to bring uniformity to the myriad of tourism bills for each county in the state, and there is pressure to use similar policies and language, he said.

Commissioners plan to take the issue up in January.

 

Concerns with the Jackson County room tax bill

Jackson County commissioners plan to increase the tax on overnight lodging from 3 to 6 percent. Doing so requires permission of the N.C. General Assembly. A special bill to increase the tax was passed in Raleigh earlier this year at the county’s request. The language in the bill calls for other changes to the county’s two tourism agencies as well, including:

• Create a single countywide tourism development authority. Currently, there are two — a Jackson County Travel and Tourism Association and a separate Cashiers Travel and Tourism Association. The Cashiers tourism arm currently gets 75 percent of the room tax generated in the Cashiers area to spend on its own marketing.

• Expand how the tourism tax revenue could be spent. Currently, the money generated from the room tax must go solely to tourism marketing and promotions. The new bill would allow money to be spent on “tourism-related activities,” including capital projects. Putting on festivals, building greenways or assisting the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad with the cost of an engine turntable could all be legal uses of the tourism revenue under the new bill.

New 911 technology could save critical seconds in emergency dispatch

Emergency agencies throughout Haywood County expect to be clocking in quicker response times soon.

Fire, police and EMS divisions within the county will begin using a new Computer-Aided Dispatch and Mobile Data Information System this week, aimed at improving efficiency as well as interagency communication.

“It will reduce the response time a bit,” said Kristy Lanning, director of technology and communications for Haywood County.

Currently, dispatchers field incoming emergency calls and contact the appropriate responders — be it police, fire or an ambulance. With the new system, agencies will be able to access information about an emergency in real-time as the dispatcher inputs it.

The county will save money by funding the multijurisdictional project rather than purchasing a system for each emergency response agency.

The Haywood County Board of Commissioners heard an update on the project at their meeting Monday.

The $354,944 project is being paid for with designated Emergency Telephone System Funds, a small surcharge on monthly phone bills that is earmarked for county 9-1-1 systems. The cost was spread over two years and included software, hardware and some of the mobile equipment, which allows public safety officials to connect to the new system from their vehicles.

Individual agencies will pay for annual licensing, maintenance and upgrades to the system. A new administrator position has been created to oversee use and management of the new system.

It also uses GPS technology to locate the emergency responders who are nearest to a particular location.

“This is a huge step forward,” said Mark Swanger, chairman of the Haywood County Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners approved the project in April, and public safety officials have spent the subsequent months implementing the system and training employees how to use it.

Jackson commissioner regrets public airing of discord on board

A brouhaha among Jackson County commissioners at a meeting last week prompted a follow-up public apology from Chairman Jack Debnam.

Debnam told The Smoky Mountain News there was a time and place for such disagreements but that the county meeting was neither the proper time nor the suitable place.

Commissioners met Nov. 14 in a special workshop to discuss funding for Smoky Mountain High School and a controversial proposed room tax hike. For the first part of the meeting, commissioners worked together in equanimity.

But when the meeting turned to a discussion of the room tax — and the equally divisive issue of whether the county’s framework for promoting tourism should be revamped — Commissioner Joe Cowan let loose with a heated verbal salvo. Cowan accused Debnam and County Manager Chuck Wooten of leaving him and fellow Democrat Mark Jones out in the cold. Cowan said they are purposely kept in the dark about issues and cut off from information.

That, in turn, sparked an exchange that put Debnam and Commissioner Doug Cody on the defensive.

Debnam and Cody told Cowan he should do more on his end, such as reading up on the county meeting agendas, getting to the meetings early or calling the other commissioners to talk.

“There should not have been an outburst like that in a public meeting,” Debnam said last week. “I’m apologizing for that happening at a board meeting. I would have liked all of that to have been handled in a more diplomatic manner.”

— By Quintin Ellison

Strange at best, tacky at worst — library plaque to bear two boards’ names

Jackson County Commissioner Doug Cody said he was as surprised as anyone to learn that his name would be included on a bronze plaque destined to hang on the newly renovated courthouse and library complex. So was his fellow board member, Charles Elders, who noted last week that frankly it seemed kind of peculiar, even a tad inappropriate, to him.

That’s because during last November’s campaigns, the two Republicans and Jack Debnam, an Independent-but-conservative candidate for commission chairman, were rather free in their criticisms about expenses connected with the $8 million renovation of the old courthouse and construction of a new library annex in Sylva.

Cody was careful to note that he didn’t actually campaign directly against the new library — which, in fact, he didn’t, but he frequently questioned the cost.

Debnam said he truly couldn’t care less whether there’s a plaque or not — the library belongs to the citizens of Jackson County, he said, not to government officials.

“I don’t even know why we have to get into this self-glorification,” Debnam said.

Be that as it may, how then did it happen that two boards of commissioners are destined to have their names listed on the bronze plaque? It will list eight individuals from two Jackson County commission boards, an odd merging of the very men who waged war in one of the most bitter political battles this community can remember.

When it was done, Democrats William Shelton, Tom Massie and Brian McMahan were gone; Elders, Cody and Debnam were in.

Democrats Mark Jones and Joe Cowan are twice designated on the future plaque, because they were and are seated on both the former and current boards. The two men were not up for election last November.

“Nothing is simple in life when it comes to local politics,” County Manager Chuck Wooten wrote Architect Donnie Love in an email dated Jan. 24, which he made available to The Smoky Mountain News. “I suspect with a new board in place when the library opens they will also want to have a presence on the plaque. I’ll talk to the chairman and let you know.”

This followed a query by Love about who should make the plaque, and whether the new county manager was “comfortable with the wording, spelling etc.”

Well, no, it turned out he wasn’t. Wooten, in addition to adding the extra commissioners, removed former County Manager Ken Westmoreland’s name. It should be pointed out that he did not add his own name, either. Wooten said he simply didn’t like the idea of having a county manager, any county manager, on the plaque.

The changes did not cost the county any taxpayer money, Wooten said.

Dottie Brunette, head librarian in Jackson County, declined to comment on the library plaque, or on public speculations she was offered a Faustian deal: agree to the names being added, or risk losing library funding. Wooten flatly denied such a conversation took place.

He was, however, clearly sensitive about talk in the community concerning the plaque leading up to the library’s grand opening. The day before, on June 10, Wooten again emailed Love, querying him about the not-yet-delivered plaque:

“Could you determine when he anticipates delivery or should I pursue ordering the plaque from someone else? I’m having a temporary sign printed for this weekend to head off rumors about excluding the prior board of commissioners from a permanent sign. You know how local politics can be.”

Mary Selzer, who helped head a fundraising campaign for Friends of the Library, said Shelton, Massie and Jones were “the three commissioners who had the vision, and who got the project approved and funded, working with then County Manager Kenneth Westmoreland.

“Without their commitments and hard work, the courthouse would still be standing empty, and we would still be having discussion about where to put a library in Jackson County.”

Massie and Shelton declined to comment.

The cost to the county — and ultimately the taxpayers — for the new library complex was approximately $7.1 million. The total project budget was more than $8.6 million, but the Friends raised the $1.5 million for furniture, fixtures and equipment plus an additional $300,000 to cover campaign-fundraising expenses and to expand the library’s collection.

Selzer added in a delicate step-on-nobody’s toes straddle, “the current board of commissioners did allot money to keep the current level of services at 45 hours.”

Staff, too, was added. The library saw funding increase from $500,000 to $675,000 under the new board of commissioners. The library, Selzer noted, was the only county department that actually received a financial increase.

The delivery date for the new plaque is unknown. So, exactly, is where on the courthouse/library it will hang once it arrives.

Few find anything to like in Haywood budget proposal

Haywood County residents told commissioners just what they thought of funding reductions at a hearing last week over the county’s new budget.

Thirty people came to the meeting, where commissioners took comments on the 2011-12 budget, which decreases funding to schools by 3 percent.

Though fewer than a third of the crowd voiced their opinions, many who did either opposed the education slashing or chided the board for its increasing debt load, proposed increase to the tax rate and recent property revaluation.

Some, like Marietta Edwards, questioned where the county’s money was going.

“We need money for the schools. We don’t need fancy buildings, we don’t need these high expenditures,” said Edwards. “We need to be careful how we spend our money.”

Others came to plead only for the reinstatement of school funding, which they said was vital to the county’s educational success.

“We’re doing good things here in Haywood County,” said Tuscola High School Principal Dale McDonald. “But the budget has the possibility of losing some assistant principals. In five years, I will not be a principal at Tuscola High School. I’ll be retired. But you’ve got to have somebody ready to step in and fill those shoes.”

Commissioners noted that they weren’t responsible for line item cuts to school budgets. They just provide the funding figure, not specifics on how that money is used.

But school advocates said that regardless of where the cuts come from, they’d still be detrimental to the effort to school the county’s kids.

Commissioners countered the complaints — they understand, said board members, that cuts are never fun or easy. But when state is slashing around 10 percent, there are few options.

“This board takes handling the county money seriously,” said Commissioner Bill Upton, a former Pisgah High School principal and long-time superintendent for the county’s schools. “When I was in schools, it was how you handled the kids that was the most important, and now as a county commissioner it’s how you handle the billfold that’s the most important.”

Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick assured the assembled crowd that setting a higher tax rate — 54.13 cents as opposed to 51.4 cents last year — wasn’t a flippant decision by the board, but it’s how they’ll stay revenue neutral after a property revaluation as the whole state faces dire economic straits.

“What we have to do is weigh what we think is necessary and needed and try to establish the best budget possible with that. We don’t sit up here and establish a tax rate that we’re not going to pay as well,” said Kirkpatrick.

Though the hearing was a chance for citizens to voice their pleasure or grievance with the proposed budget, it was also a forum for commissioners to defend their decisions and fact check some ill-founded constituent complaints, such as the claim by one man that the county was subsidizing a cowboy church at the fairgrounds.

The proposed budget hasn’t yet been adopted by commissioners, but they’re expected to discuss it at their next meeting on June 20.

Cashiers rec center gets green light

The Cashiers Recreation Center is back on track following a unanimous vote this week by Jackson County commissioners to move forward with the $8 million project.

Commissioners voted to use money from the county’s fund balance instead of taking out a loan, and to hire a professional cost estimator to figure out the bottom-line price tag.

Current estimates are based on blueprints that have been on the shelf since 2006. If anything, given the crash of the construction market since then, Jackson County can anticipate a probable improvement on the original guesstimates.

The county already has spent about $3 million on the project in the past five years getting a site ready. County Manager Chuck Wooten said a fire-pump station is still needed to ensure future sprinklers have the water to operate. But otherwise, he said, the county is about ready to go through a punch (or to-do list) for that part of the project.

Cashiers’ recreation center has been a sore point for that community, which is isolated by virtue of geography. The residents in that area shoulder the bulk of Jackson County’s tax base, but often complain of seeing little return for their dollars.

The project hit environmental snags (the site is in the protected headwaters of the Chatooga River), which triggered correspondingly higher costs. The county had to pay an additional $900,000 for site work between 2006 and 2008 to comply with the regulatory demands.

The project almost hit another potential roadblock when Chairman Jack Debnam shied at designating the fund balance as the source of funding. He said he wanted more time to study whether the county might be better off taking out a loan. With Wooten saying commissioners couldn’t move forward at this time without detailing where they’d get the money from, and a motion from Commissioner Mark Jones, a resident of Cashiers, already on the table, Debnam voted “yes,” too.

Money available for railroad, if commissioners ink deal

No actual decision was made, but County Manager Chuck Wooten told commissioners this week that they have $95,176 set aside in the budget if they want to give the money, as requested, to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.

The money would go toward fixing up a steam engine the railroad bought that is currently sitting in Maine. In February, the privately owned business asked for $817,176 in the form of a loan and a grant from Jackson County. A few weeks later, the railroad amended that request to ask for $95,176 in cash and $322,000 in the form of a loan.

Now the loan part is gone, and the railroad just wants cold, hard cash from Jackson County.

That’s because if the railroad did get a loan from the county, it might well be forced to immediately pay back another federal loan because of an agreed upon debt-equity ratio, Wooten said.

Businessman Al Harper owns the railroad. Until 2008, Dillsboro served as the headquarters of the railway, an excursion railroad catering to tourists. About 60,000 people a year rode the train, and Dillsboro boomed — until the train moved its administrative office and main depot to Bryson City. Dillsboro languished in the wake of that decision. Last year, and even more this year, the railroad did begin limited, seasonal excursions out of Dillsboro again.

With the steam engine, Harper is promising to run service out of Dillsboro two to three days per week in June, July and August, and three to four days out of the week in October.

Additionally, the railroad promises during November and December for the popular Polar Express to originate out of the tourism-dependent town.

“If there is sufficient passenger demand then (the) number of days could be increased,” Wooten noted. “There will also be trips on the steam engine originating out of Bryson City with a stopover in Dillsboro.”

Swain County and the Swain County Travel and Tourism Authority each have already kicked in $25,000, for a total of $50,000, to the railroad.

A decision by commissioners in Jackson County won’t be made until the steam engine is physically located in Western North Carolina from Maine, Wooten said.

No tax increase projected for Jackson

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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