Falling in line with Macon County, Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten has presented commissioners with a balanced budget for next year, that does not include a tax increase. The $60.7 million General Fund balance was developed while maintaining the tax rate at its current rate of $.28 per $100 and is .4 percent less than the current year's budget.
Of the proposed $60.7 million, the majority of the budget, at 25.83 percent goes to Human Services, followed by Education at 19.16 percent, public safety at 18.71 percent, general government operations at 14.93 percent, debt services at 10.56 percent, cultural/ recreation at 5.17 percent, transportation at 1.97 percent, economic development at 1.15 percent, environmental projects at .4 percent and other expenses accounting for 2.12 percent of the budget.
“We attempted to hold the line on any significant increases by maintaining the tax rate at $.28,” said Wooten. “A salary increase for all county employees was included and this is the first increase since FY ’08-09 that applies to all employees. We are creating a position to oversee the economic development activities for the county and also providing funds for one school resource officer.”
The proposed budget includes a two percent increase across the board for all Jackson County employees. While the last increase for all county employees came in 2008-09, employees did see a one-time $650 increase this year for employees whose salaries were $40,000 or less. Wooten's budget message to commissioners cited the importance of the salary increase in order for the county to remain competitive with surrounding local governments. In addition to the two percent increase across the board, the proposed budget identified several positions that are recommended for special adjustments to correct errors in classifications to acknowledge assignment of additional duties and responsibilities to implement job reallocations and to reward promotions.
Jackson County's proposed budget also places a strong emphasis on technology needs and includes a special project to review and assess the organizational structure of the Information Technology (IT) Department. The study will include a salary study for IT positions as well as an evaluation and possible consolidations of existing departments and other efficiencies through outsourcing and centralizing operations.
Wooten's proposed budget includes 4.5 new positions in various departments in Jackson County. New positions include an Economic Development Director, a clerical support position to be shared by the Economic Development Director and the Director of Human Resources, a Deputy-School Resource Officer, a grant-funded Mobility Coordinator in the Transit Department, and a receptionist at the Aging Center. The Aging Center position is to be funded through combining existing part-time salaries and new funds to create a full-time position.
The proposed budget remains relatively similar to the current year's with little changes throughout various departments. The overall Health Department budget is 10 percent less than the current year, which can be attributed to reductions in grant-funded activities. Social Services reflects a five percent increase, with one third of the increase allocated toward expenditures for providing Social Services support for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
Jackson County's proposed budget fully funds the $ 6.7 million request from Jackson County Board of Education, which is the same amount that was requested this year. The budget also includes a School Resource Officer, which is proposed to be added to Smokey Mountain Elementary School.
“Looking to the future, we will continue to explore external funding opportunities for SROs at the remaining elementary schools and to gather additional data concerning the effectiveness of SROs at elementary schools,” stated Wooten in his budget message.
The manager's budget also includes $744,000 for the school capital reserve fund and $235,000 for capital outlay requests, with an additional $250,000 for technology.
Continuing with the intent of making education a priority in Jackson County, the proposed budget includes a recommended two percent increase in operating support and funds for capital needs as requested by Southwestern Community College (SCC) for the second year of the campus improvement plan.
“When combined with increases from the past two years, a cumulative increase of 16.06 percent has been allocated to SCC for operations; however, it should be noted that the proposed budget does not fully fund the community college's request,” said Wooten.
Wooten noted that the budget also doesn't fully fund the request made by Fontana Regional Library, but does include a two percent increase in operating support for Jackson County's library. “Additional discussions are needed to better understand the salary disparities between libraries within the Fontana system and the proposed salary plan that has been developed by the Fontana Library,” said Wooten.
Fire departments did not receive an increase and the proposed budget does not support the building requests of the fire departments without an adjustment in the tax rate or a reallocation of proposed expenditures. A $15,000 increase is included in the budget for the Jackson County Rescue Squad to adequately recognize the substation at the Sylva Fire Department.
“We will continue to discuss the possibility of implementing a fire protection tax to provide volunteer fire departments with a consistent revenue source to support their operations,” said Wooten.
Projected revenues for Jackson County were reflected in the budget to show anticipated collections and to reduce or eliminate revenues associated with grants or programs that have been reduced or completed. Jackson County collects $29.9 million in Ad Valorem Tax, and $729,909 in motor vehicle taxes.
“We continue to see an increase in the property tax base ($72.7 million) and the collection rate (95.99 percent vs. 95.29 percent) which results in a $482,794 increase in projected tax revenue,” said Wooten. “We anticipated an improved collection rate in motor vehicle taxes from the new collections procedure; however, a lower overall vehicle value and a delay in new collection procedures results in a slight decline in motor vehicle taxes.”
Jackson County continues to show an increase in sales tax collections and the proposed budget reflects a $495,209 increase over the current fiscal year, anticipating a total collection of just under $9 million.
“This increase not only benefits the county general fund, but also the funding for school capital outlay,” said Wooten. “We expect to receive a distribution from the beer and wine excise tax; however, this revenue has not been included in the proposed budget since we have no past history or experience to call upon for estimating these receipts.”
The statewide average for fund balance in counties is 25.24 percent with the population group average, it increases to 27.25 percent. The fund balance for Jackson County as of June 30, 2012 was 33 percent of the general fund or $15,412,577. According to Wooten, he expects that amount to increase modestly as of June 30. The fund balance for Jackson County has shown a trend of increase for several years. During FY 2010-2011, an appropriation of $5,040,625 was made for the Cashiers Recreation Center Project. No fund balance appropriation is included in the proposed budget.
With 59.46 percent of the general fund revenue coming from property tax, that leaves 18.28 percent to be generated from intergovernmental sources, 15.51 percent from sales taxes, 6.3 percent from sales and services and .45 percent from other sources.
Jackson County is expected to have a final budget ready by June 17.