By Tanner Hall

 

Jackson County’s nearly $72 million budget for next fiscal year includes money for a homeless program, but officials aren’t yet sure what the final dollar amount for that would be.

Commissioners adopted the 2019-20 fiscal-year budget on Tuesday with a unanimous vote. It includes a general fund balance of about $65 million and is based on a tax rate of 38 cents per $100 property valuation, the same as last year.

Funding for the homeless emerged as a sensitive topic at a June 4 public hearing, during which more than half a dozen people spoke in support of HERE in Jackson County.The startup nonprofit has proposed to manage the county’s homeless program.

The organization requested officials provide $245,000 for its annual budget, more than double the amount allotted for the homeless program for fiscal-year 2018-19. The county instead allocated $130,000.

County Manager Don Adams met with leaders from HERE in Jackson County on Monday to discuss the nonprofit’s budgetary plans. On Tuesday, he reported to commissioners the organization has no set budget, at least not yet. There are three variations, he said, and each would allow HERE in Jackson County to hire a different number of employees.

Advocates for the homeless are targeting more than $75,000 in grants over the next several months, and they won’t know how much money from the county would be needed until those are awarded, Adams said.

Those involved with HERE in Jackson County are familiar with the homeless issue. Board of Directors President Destri Leger is the regional lead for the Western North Carolina Homeless Coalition. She’s also the outreach and development coordinator for the Sylva-based Center for Domestic Peace.

The organization’s board includes Monica Frizzell with Vaya Health; Marilyn Chamberlin of Southwestern Child Development Commission, the agency that currently manages the county’s homeless program; and community members Kelly Brown and Mary Kate Crisp.

Bob Cochran, former director of Jackson County’s Department of Social Services and current case manager for the homeless program, has been involved in developing the organization.

Commissioners agreed to support HERE in Jackson County in applying for grants and seeking federal tax exemption through 501(c)(3) status; however, officials said they felt it was too early in the process to supply the requested $245,000.

Officials this year also decided against funding the school system $87,680 to hire a curriculum coordinator, a position Superintendent Kim Elliott said could help improve student test scores.

“I’m looking for this person to be in the field impacting 1,800 students,” Elliott told commissioners last month. “I do not believe we have supported our excellent teachers with curriculum in the manner that we should have.”

County leaders expressed doubt that a curriculum coordinator would be enough of a difference maker to warrant the expense.