Utilizing $1.5 million in reserve funds and increasing the cost of using the county ambulance service helped the Jackson County Board of Commissioners balance its 2013 budget with virtually no change in property tax rates.
The board met briefly last Thursday morning to approve the 2012 property tax rates and the $63.8 million 2013 budget.
The action included rates of 9.87 mills for residents of the incorporated areas and 8.61 mills for taxpayers in the unincorporated areas.
County manager Kevin Poe said the rate for the incorporated areas of the county was .29 mills higher than in 2011, while the rate for those in the unincorporated areas is unchanged. The difference in tax rates stems from the fact that the county uses revenue it receives from a tax on insurance premiums sold in unincorporated areas to roll back property tax rates. The municipalities get the revenue from insurance policies sold in their corporate limits.
The budget incorporates an estimated $400,000 in additional revenue from raising the cost of ambulance use and a $100,000 allocation for salary supplements.
It also featured a last-minute addition requested by sheriff-elect Janis Mangum and recommended by Poe of adding the purchase of eight additional patrol cars (two were already in the budget).
“If we don’t increase it, the following year, 2014, we’re going to be hit very hard,” commented commissioner Dwain Smith, referring to the scheduled replacement of sheriff’s vehicles.
Chairman Hunter Bicknell concurred, saying that failure to buy more vehicles in 2013 would push the number needed in 2014 to 20.
“It sounds like a very reasonable request to me,” added commissioner Bruce Yates.
The budget includes a General Fund budget of $34,382,976, a 3.47-percent reduction from the current budget. It anticipates use of $1.55 million in prior years’ reserves, a decrease of more than 30 percent in reserve usage from the current budget.
Poe’s executive summary of the budget also pointed out the following cost-cutting measures used to balance the budget:
•nine furlough days expected to save $533,479
•keeping the county portion of health insurance premiums unchanged, which means employees have higher deductibles and pay more for coverage — the third year such costs have been passed to employees
•the carryover from FY 2012 of keeping retirement funding at a base contribution for the defined contribution plan
•reduction of transfers out of the General Fund by $569,986 due to a 19.85-percent reduction in debt payments for Economic Development Bonds from refinancing and refunding part of the bonds
Those measures were required, in part, because the county tax digest declined by 4.18 percent, cutting tax revenue by $755,000. Other challenges included increases in personnel costs due to a reduction in furlough days, the hiring of three additional personnel and converting three part-time positions to full-time, increases in insurance costs and the $100,000 one-time salary supplement approved for personnel.
The budget anticipates a fund balance at the end of 2013 of $6.98 million.