Jackson County rides out budget storm unscathed

Jackson County Manager Ken Westmoreland said he would deliver a balanced budget with no cuts to services or staff and that is exactly what he did on Monday night.

While neighboring counties are taking drastic measures to offset budget shortfalls for the second year in a row, Jackson County is once again holding steady.

Westmoreland presented a draft budget to county commissioners at a county meeting Monday (May 17).

“We have not had to cut services. We have not had to furlough individuals. We have met all of our obligations,” Westmoreland said in his characteristic business-like language.

The one exception to a budget that essentially holds last year’s line items is the additional money to outfit and operate the county’s new library branch at the old Jackson County Courthouse site.

Westmoreland’s proposed budget includes $121,000 for staffing, collection materials and additional operating expenses for the library. Since the new library is not scheduled to open until January, the extra money in the budget is designed to cover costs for six months. The funding will have to be continued into the following fiscal year.

If there was a surprise in the proposed budget, it was Westmoreland’s decision not to meet the Jackson County Schools’ request for an increase in operating funds to offset their anticipated decreases in state funding.

Jackson County Schools Superintendent Sue Nations asked county commissioners to help the schools bridge an expected budget gap that could extend to nearly $1 million if Gov. Perdue’s proposed discretionary cuts take effect.

Westmoreland’s draft budget includes a meager $18,000 increase for the schools’ operating budget, when Nations requested an increase in excess of $350,000 to help pay for faculty and support staff.

Westmoreland said as early as March that he would produce a budget that held departmental funding levels steady but would not involve service cuts or tax increases.

Commissioner Tom Massie welcomed the draft budget and commended the county’s department heads for recognizing the difficulty of the economic climate.

“We’re finding savings every day in the budget and that’s why we’re not having to make some of the cuts going on in neighboring counties,” Massie said. “That reflects good management.”

Massie pointed to the fact that the county could carry over money from this year’s budget if their spending rates hold steady through June.

In the current fiscal year, Jackson County’s expenditures are 11 percent below their budgeted allotment to date, despite the fact that the county’s revenues are 1.6 percent below their predicted levels.

The county will hold a public hearing on the draft budget at 6 p.m. on Monday, June 7, in the county boardroom.

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