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Jackson County budget and savings are up

The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved a $328 million budget for the coming fiscal year that includes funding for a new district attorney's office building and the hiring of at least 100 mental health workers.

Approved unanimously Wednesday, the 2015-16 fiscal year budget is up 7.2 percent from the 2014-15 fiscal year budget of $306 million, which reflects both added savings and an influx of revenue to pay for expanded health care.

County Administrator Danny Jordan noted the total budget includes $101 million in reserves and ending fund balances. He said that puts the county in the "best financial condition" it's ever been in.

Added costs in the budget include a new Jackson County District Attorney's Office building, with an estimated price tag of $6.2 million.

The current building, which will be razed and replaced with a parking lot, doesn't offer adequate security or enough space for workers and records, according to county officials. A window was blown out and the interior suffered damage in 2013 when a man scheduled for a court appearance set off a bomb that only partially exploded.

The county also plans to build a new justice court building for $1.5 million in Central Point instead of continuing lease payments on an existing building.

Jackson County expects to hire between 100 and 150 new employees in the coming fiscal year for its Health and Human Services Department, primarily for mental health care, said Jordan. Funding for the positions comes primarily from the federal government in response to large increases in Oregon Health Plan patient loads. The state's Medicaid services are provided through OHP.

The department already hired 64 workers this fiscal year, he said.

The 2010 federal Affordable Care Act put mental health care coverage on par with physical health care coverage, leading to a nationwide surge in demand for mental health workers. Jackson County receives the funding from coordinated care organizations to provide mental health care to Oregon Health Plan members.

The number of county residents on the Oregon Health Plan has almost doubled since 2013 to 65,000 this year. Almost one-third of county residents are on OHP. About 5,000 of OHP clients receive county mental health services, county officials said.

Other new positions will include the equivalent of four full-time community justice department workers, two victims assistance program workers, one deputy district attorney, two workers for The Expo and two employees for development and surveyor services to meet demand caused by new construction in an improving economy.

County commissioners said Jackson County is in strong financial shape.

"It's nice to come in and take over the reins when things are going so well," said Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer, who took office in January.

Commissioners credited county employees, citizen members of the Budget Committee and past commissioners for putting the county on solid financial footing.

Jordan said as the county continues to build its reserves and earn interest on the money, it may be able to lower its property tax rate in three to five years.

The county's tax rate of $2.01 per $1,000 will remain the same for the coming fiscal year. The county is at its legal ceiling for its tax rate, although under state law taxes can go up by 3 percent as assessed property values rise.

Jordan said the Jackson County tax rate is in the lowest one-third of tax rates in the state compared with other counties.

The county has weathered a major downturn in shared revenue from timber sales on federal land in the county, as well as large drop-offs in federal payments that flowed to counties for years to offset the loss of those timber dollars.

The county expects to receive an estimated $1.6 million in shared revenue from logging in the coming fiscal year.

For the 1991-1992 fiscal year, the county received $15.1 million in logging-related revenue —  which would be equivalent to $25.9 million this year if adjusted for inflation, according to Jordan.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.