No tax increase for Jackson

No tax increase for Jackson

Jackson County is set to approve its budget next week, funding county operations for the coming fiscal year without a tax increase for residents. 

“We strive to include all necessary expenditures without the need to increase the tax rate,” said County Manager Kevin King.

The proposed general fund budget for Jackson County is balanced in accordance with revenues and expenditures totaling $93,803,495. This constitutes an approximate increase of 3.8% over the current FY 2023-24 amended budget.

“I think everybody knows that our bills are not going down, cost of gas is not going down,” said Commission Chairman Mark Letson.

The proposed budget is based on a tax rate of $0.38 per $100 of assessed value, the same tax rate as the current fiscal year. The budget includes a one-step increase for all employees, as well as a 2% cost of living adjustment, all of which will cost the county just over $1 million.

“Even though it is an increase, with inflation and everything, cost of living is needed,” said Commissioner Todd Bryson. “In order to compete with surrounding counties, we have to keep up. Maybe at some point we can get to a place in the economy where we can maybe skip a year or something on the cost-of-living increase. But our employees do a lot of work and a good job, and they deserve it.” 

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The budget includes several personnel recommendations. It proposes funding one full-time public information officer. This position was requested by multiple departments and will be part of administrative staff to be used by all departments. Seven full time nursing positions will transfer to the county from Jackson County Public Schools — four RN positions and three CNA positions. One full time housekeeper is recommended for the aquatic center, three maintenance workers and two social service workers.

Capital improvement needs number about $5.7 million in the proposed budget, a number that includes approximately $1.3 million for general equipment and $1 million for new vehicles at the sheriff’s office, maintenance department, transit, environmental health, parks and recreation and social services.

Capital improvements will take about $3.3 million in the upcoming fiscal year budget with upgrades recommended for the Cashiers Library, Cashiers Recreation Center, jail and Sylva Library HVAC systems. The Department on Aging needs painting and staining, and several park upgrades are accounted for.

The county is proposing to allocate $10,106,437 to Jackson County Public Schools for the 2024-25 fiscal year. This is an increase of about 2% over the previous budget. In addition, the county will take on the school nurse program as part of the Jackson County Health Department and it will allocate $500,472 for Community Eligibility Program lunches at all schools to be funded from fund balance, to provide all students with free lunch.

“I asked Mr. King to reach out and get some more information,” said Commissioner Mark Jones. “Maybe what’s the cost of a meal, a breakfast or the cost of a lunch? It would help us gauge, do we have enough money, or do we have too much?” 

“We were going to make a request to have that billed on a monthly basis, where we have statistics to show,” King told the commission. “You’ve allotted up to the half a million dollars, but maybe they just bill us once a month for the amount of utilization.”

The commission agreed monthly billing would work best for the CEP lunch allocation, in order to get a clearer picture of how much the school system needs.  

To help fund capital and capital improvements in the school system, 40% of the Article 40 sales tax and 60% of the Article 42 sales tax go to the public schools. The budget also recommends an additional $2.7 million from each sales tax pot to be used for educational purposes.

“These sales tax funds, future grants and available lottery proceeds will dictate the outcome of the public schools’ FY 2025-2029 Facility Capital Improvement Plan,” King wrote in the budget message.

The county will allocate $2.7 million to Southwestern Community College operations, as well as $734,410 for capital outlay.

Fire departments across the county are receiving a 2% increase in their allotments and most non-profits are to be funded at the current FY 2023-24 levels. The Community Development Center will receive increased funding to the amount of $5,000 due to increased operational costs. An increase is also proposed for Community Table, Cullowhee Revitalization and HERE Program. Mountain Projects requested $1.5 million for the Webster Village Partnership which has been recommended to be funded over a two-year period.

“As Jackson County strives to be a leader, it is our responsibility to promote progressive government sensitive to the needs of its citizens,” said King.  

A public hearing for the budget was held at commissioner’s June 4 meeting. No members of the public spoke on the topic. The Jackson County Commission is set to consider the proposed FY 2024-25 budget for approval at its June 18 meeting.

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