The final budget is $500,000 more than the version originally proposed May 21 and $3.12 million more than the current year budget.
Much of that increase is due to increased spending on school resource officers, counselors and teachers. After February’s tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, commissioners committed to increasing school safety standards in Jackson County, spending $400,000 for security cameras and monitors and $27,000 for architectural designs to address safety issues in the county’s nine schools.
The new budget includes funding for four new school resource officers, a juvenile detective and six school counselors, a total annual cost of $667,000. In addition, the county will fund three additional classroom-teaching positions, an annual cost of $191,700.
Other new costs include hiring a director for the consolidated Health and Human Services Department — the salary range is $74,000 to $145,000 — $165,000 to take ambulance service in the Qualla area to 24 hours, $95,000 for two additional sheriffs road deputies and $287,000 for shooting range improvements at Southwestern Community College.
The new budget includes a tax increase of 1 cent per $100 of property value. The tax hike is estimated to bring with it $918,000 in revenue, to be earmarked for safety spending, such as additional school resource officers.
“Of all the budgets I’ve been involved with, which span right now 12, this probably flowed the best of any of the budgets I’ve been a part of,” said Commission Chairman Brian McMahan as the board prepared to pass the budget. “I very much appreciate the timeline and how you (County Manager Don Adams) facilitated it. I know it does require a tax increase of 1 cent and that’s something that none of us take lightly, but we recognize the significant impact on our community and the need to protect our kids in the school system. Our kids are worth every bit of what we’re going to do, and I very much support it.”
Jackson County Schools Superintendent Kim Elliott attended the meeting as well, along with several members of the school board. Elliott thanked commissioners for the increased education funding granted in the new budget.
“I don’t remember a time here in my time — in six years — that we have seen such great collaboration,” she said. “We have always been great friends, and the boards have gotten along very well, but this amount of collaboration between two boards is commendable.”
Commissioners held a budget hearing on Monday, June 4, but nobody came to deliver public comment at that time.
The new budget will be posted online at www.jacksonnc.org/finance-department/jackson-county-budget-documents.