By Beth Lawrence
Jackson County Manager Don Adams presented his budget proposal to commissioners last week. The plan includes a tax increase to meet the needs of first responders and other needs.
The general fund budget totaled $82,292,740, an increase of $6,373,313 over fiscal year 2021- 22. The proposal suggests a two-cent tax increase to 38 cents per $100 valuation.
“Previously, it was thought that we would need about 3 cents on the tax rate,” Adams said. “We’ve done our best to try to reduce that.”
The budget includes a one-step (pay level) raise for all county employees suggested by a salary study conducted last year. That amounts to $385,004. Based on the step increases, Adams did not include a cost of living adjustment this year. Additionally, several requests for reclassifying job descriptions in the county were denied due to all employees being given a bump in grade. Adams approved a request from the Department of Social Services to extend for one year a position partially funded by the state.
There was no increase in health insurance rates for either the county or employees.
Under capital improvements $2.4 million was allocated for equipment with over $1 million going to computers and related equipment; the rest covers assorted recreation, garage and law enforcement equipment such as radios and body cameras.
The sheriff’s office will receive a body scanner for the jail to assist with detainee intake and searches.
Adams referenced problems with drugs being smuggled into the jail recently. One occurrence included a jailor allegedly giving drugs to inmates.
“Obviously, you know we had that issue occur with the officer,” Adams said. “We had some other issues with some inmates.”
Several departments requested new vehicles, but Adams did not approve those requests citing availability and supply chain issues. Several vehicles that were supposed to be replaced last year have still not been shipped. He did recommend that sheriff’s office vehicles scheduled for regular replacement be approved.
Adams recommended over $1 million in capital improvement projects including repairs to Cashiers Department on Aging and the jail, sealing several parking lots, replacing heating and air units at Cashiers Recreation Center and Jackson County Library, and paving Mark Watson Park.
Jackson County Schools will receive a 2 percent increase over last year’s funding contingent based on several issues. Adams allotted $8.6 million, including $7.1 million for current operations, $141,928 in PILT money, $847,067 in teachers’ supplements and $442,799 for counselors. He suggested setting aside an additional $445,300 in a special contingency fund because schools are not certain how much state funding they will receive. Adams suggested that in the fall once a state budget is passed JCPS could request additional funds if needed.
“Assuming that state allocations are not decreased, public schools’ requests along with ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act funds) and state funds may lead to a fund balance increase,” Adams said.
Schools also receive funding from local sales taxes. Adams suggested giving schools $1.8 million in Article 40 and 42 taxes and $1.4 million from Article 46 taxes.
JCPS was scheduled to present its budget request to commissioners on May 23.
Southwestern Community College will receive $2.5 million, an increase of $133,086 over last year for operations. Capital outlay funds totaling $398,343 will cover repairs, renovations and paving the firing range parking lot.
The public library received $1.2 million in operational funds for JCPL and Albert Carlton libraries.
Savanah, Canada, Qualla and Balsam volunteer fire departments and Glenville-Cashiers and Jackson County Rescue squads received a 7.4 percent increase in funding for operational expenses. Sylva Fire Department will receive $1,074,290. This number includes the amount Jackson County already provides SFD for operations and money to fund eight full-time firefighters. The town originally requested funding for 12. Cullowhee Fire will receive $1.7 million for operations. The Forestry Service was allotted $109,115 for equipment, including a fire attack vehicle.
Adams suggested funding all nonprofits at their current levels except for HERE in Jackson County which could be given $11,385 more next year pending commissioners’ approval.
“Due to hotel room costs, it is recommended that HERE receive a 7.4 percent increase,” Adams said.
A new charity, Rolling Start, a group providing vehicles to low income residents, received a $5,000 provision.
Under special funds, Adams suggested funding Highlands Fire and Rescue as previously funded, $84,000 with no tax increase. A portion of Highlands is in Jackson County. Cashiers-Glenville Fire Department was allotted $1,884,634, an increase of $54,790 over last year, but that did not lead to an increased fire tax for the district.
The total budget including special funds such as fire taxes, Emergency 911 And Economic Development totals $98,636,205.
The full budget proposal may be viewed at jacksonnc.org by scrolling to the bottom of the home page and clicking the link.