At Tuesday's special meeting of the Jackson County Commission it was apparent that the Board is moving into the finalization phase of the 2014-2015 budget for Jackson County. In fact, the first of the required Public Hearings on the budget will be held at 5:00 on Thursday, September 4. This will be an opportunity for taxpayers to question items on the proposed budget, including departmental budgets, pay rates, millage, and other matters related to the document. The final approval is scheduled for September 18.
For years the Commissioners have worked under a tradition of “holding the line” on raising the property tax rate for property owners in the county. This year they began their objective of meeting that tradition under a hardship which was created near mid-year when County Manager Ted Lakey delivered a survey which requested a large raise for all county employees. With the Sheriff's Department included, these raises added approximately $1 million dollars in salary and benefits to the cost of operating the County.
By examining the departmental budgets prepared by the Board, it is obvious that the Commissioners had diligently endeavored to keep departmental costs and capital outlays for new equipment to a minimum. However, even with this effort, local property owners are likely to be facing an increase in property taxes. In most years, including last year, the millage rate has been calculated and approved at a tax rate of 7.9 mils, with a “roll back” to previous levels to an effective millage of 7.3200 mils. This year it appears that no roll back will be included, thus raising property taxes. This will create an increase in tax revenues of $921,873, which will come from property owners pocket books. This is almost the amount of costs increase caused by the wage increases for county employees.
In another, non budget related issue the Board received a summary report from County Manager Lakey regarding a special meeting he attended with the League of Cities and area volunteer Fire Chiefs regarding an inter-local agreement with the county to assist these outlying towns in maintaining the needed level of operational capability to cover their part of the county's population with good fire service.
Discussion related to controlling and approving the use of these funds ensued, with it being agreed that the County Finance Office would provide needed controls. “My desire is that all cities be treated fairly and equally, recognizing that differences in needs do exist,' Chairman Lockey stressed. After discussion, Commissioner Stephens entered a motion to fund this agreement at $50,000. The measure passed. These funds will be spent on needed equipment and supplies for maintaining a suitable ability to service local needs. Capital outlays are not to be included in these purchases.