Jackson County's bounce back

Fiscal management combined with new revenues help forestall cuts

Lost in the rush of the holiday kickoff and inclement weather was a quiet announcement from Jackson County that it will fully fund most of the services that were scheduled to be cut back in January. The news comes as the result of an improving economy, a bit of good luck and some fiscal foresight by the county.

While other rural Oregon counties — notably Curry and Josephine — have found themselves struggling to provide basic services, Jackson County has managed to stay on fairly firm footing, thanks in large part to belt tightening that began years ago.

The recent financial good news came in the aftermath of some sharp — and surprising — budget cuts made in the spring for the 2013-14 fiscal year. Faced with a shortfall of about $6.7 million, the county opted to dip into its reserves to cover the bulk of it and to pare a variety of programs to cover about $1.4 million of the red ink.

That meant programs ranging from the Extension Service to libraries and veterans services were looking at a loss of half their funding. The county commissioners — wisely, as it turns out — decided to provide funding for the first six months of the year, with no guarantee for the remaining six months. When higher-than-expected revenues and lower-than-expected expenses were recently tallied, the funding was largely restored.

The county's coffers proved more flush than first believed because of several developments:

  • The county reduced its expenses below budgeted levels, while property taxes came in $1.3 million higher than expected as the economy began to turn.
  • An expected $1 million boost will come from traffic fines, thanks to an effort led by Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan to get the state to restore some traffic fine revenue to counties.
  • A boost in state funding for community corrections will add another $1 million that wasn't budgeted.
  • Reductions in pension costs due to legislatively approved measures will save the county $1 million this year — if those cuts hold up in court.
  • The county expects to begin leasing space to the federal government in its jail, where an additional 62 beds will be available in the spring after a remodel.

The expense reductions and new revenues will boost the county's bottom line by about $7 million, which covers the shortfall that was predicted by the budget committee in the spring.

That means the county's reserves won't be tapped — in fact, if a congressional extension of federal timber subsidies is extended as now proposed, Jackson County will be able to add as much as $5 million to the reserves.

It took a lot of pieces to fall into place for this to happen. But it wasn't all serendipity. Jordan budgeted conservatively, the county controlled its expenses — in part by keeping wage and benefit increases low — and efforts by county officials to free up money from the state paid off.

No one thinks Jackson County is out of the woods in the long run. The revenue trend lines don't suggest things will get a lot easier and unless there's some break in the timber stalemate, hopes for revenues from O&C lands are flickering at best.

But the county has $38 million in reserves and has made investments in jail cells and new office space that will soon start paying dividends. Considering the plights of other rural counties, Jackson County residents have reasons to be thankful for their county leaders' fiscal management and hopeful about what's to come.

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