The general fund budget that funds most of the county’s operations has grown little in recent years in part because of the recession.
That lack of growth in revenue, however, leaves the Jackson County Council with few ways to fund requests for new employees. There were 10 such requests included in budgets submitted by officeholders and department heads for 2016.
As one council member sees it, there’s just one answer to the issue.
“I think we’re going to have to take a look at a public safety tax,” Councilman Brian Thompson said during a recent meeting the council used to put the finishing touches on next year’s proposed budget.
That budget includes a general fund of $9,174,564, up 4 percent or $351,484 from this year’s adopted general fund budget of $8,823,080. In 2014, the county had $8,478,002 in general fund expenses.
A public safety local option income tax could be used to finance any costs of providing public safety, including the sheriff’s department and jail and the justice system. Sheriff Michael Carothers annually requests additional jail staff, citing state inspection reports showing a shortage of such staff, and funds for a patrolman.
Thompson said the state allows counties to implement a public safety tax as high as 0.5 percent. Couple that with the present 1.6 percent income taxes people living and working in Jackson County currently pay, and their income tax would be 2.1 percent.
The additional income tax would mean a person making $30,000 would pay $630 a year or $12.12 a week in income taxes.
The council will consider adoption of the proposed 2016 budget at 6 p.m. Oct. 21 at the courthouse annex, 220 E. Walnut St., Brownstown.
During the budget-writing process, which began this summer, council members pared nearly $1,460,283 in requests from elected officials and department heads.
Branden Robbins with Reedy Financial Services in Seymour helped the county prepare the proposed 2016 budget.
He said some of the funding requests for capital projects expenses were shifted to a three-year capital project bond issue the council is pursuing at this time. The exact amount of that bond issue has not been determined, as officeholders and elected officials continue to refine needs.
Robbins also said there’s some hope that now that the recession years have passed, income tax revenue will increase and the state also may eventually raise the growth quotient from 2.6 percent. That’s the amount the state will allow the budget to grow each year.
Thompson said when that happens, a 1 percent increase would provide about $100,000 in new revenue.
The proposed budget includes 2 percent raises for most employees with the exception of those working for Jackson County Emergency Medical Services. Ambulance personnel would receive a 3 percent raise, which is an effort to bring that pay more in line with the pay of medical personnel in nearby counties, Thompson said.
Overall, there were about 10 requests for new staff, including two new jailers and a patrolman, Thompson said. He said agreeing to one request and not any of the others would be hard to justify.
The council did allow one additional person for the prosecutor’s office at the request of Prosecutor AmyMarie Travis.
However, Travis will have to fund the $35,000 expense for a part-time prosecutor out of funds generated by the people entering the deferral or diversion programs. Those programs generally allow first-time offenders to avoid jail time and keep their records clean if they stay out of trouble for at least a year.
The new public defender’s office has a proposed budget of $649,938, but the state will reimburse 40 percent or nearly $260,000 of that budget.
The sheriff’s department accounts for $3.5 million of the proposed 2016 budget. That amount includes the jail’s proposed budget of $1.75 million.