Jackson County's budgeting can be a might confusing

I am confused by the ads featuring retired Jackson County Sheriff C.W. Smith with regard to Measure 15-119. Smith claims if the measure passes, money to pay for any costs of enforcement would be stripped from the sheriff and library budget funding. I thought our county property tax bill allocated a percentage of property tax to each county service for funding that is fixed? If Smith is factual in his claim, is all county revenue just dumped into a general fund and allocated by whim or what?

— Ernie L., by email

Ernie, we suspect the Jackson County Budget Committee would take offense at the suggestion that they allocate county funds "by whim." But it is true that property taxes go into a general fund and then are doled out to various county departments.

County budgeting is complicated, with dedicated funds, discretionary funds and dollar signs followed by long strings of numbers. For our own peace of mind, we'll try to keep our answer simple.

Within the county's total budget of about $306 million, roughly $177 million is considered operating funds, that is the money primarily used to run the day-to-day operations of all the county departments.

Within that $177 million is about $38 million in nondedicated, discretionary funds, the vast majority of which comes from property taxes. That's the money the Budget Committee and commissioners have to play with in the general fund when they try to decide how much goes to each department. The rest of that $177 million in operating funds is designated (mostly state and federal funds) and cannot be moved.

Of the $38 million, the Sheriff's Department gets about $21 million, the District Attorney's Office gets about $3.6 million and Community Justice gets about $5.9 million. So criminal justice departments eat up more than $30 million of the available $38 million. The library gets about $4.4 million annually.

There is debate and uncertainty over how much the Measure 15-119 GMO ban would cost for enforcement if it's passed. But it is true that any funding that it does require would come out of the general fund, which also is the primary support for the Sheriff's Department and the library.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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