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$164 million in the bank

The proposed budget for Jackson County government would go from $358.1 million this fiscal year to $383.6 million for the coming fiscal year that starts in July — an increase of $25.5 million.

However, much of the increase isn’t spending.

The county’s contingency, ending fund balance and reserve funds are growing from almost $146 million to more than $164.1 million, a jump of more than $18.1 million. Those financial reserves are added to the total budget figure.

“We’re saving more than we’re spending,” Jackson County Administrator Danny Jordan said.

Most of the stockpiled money has strings attached and can’t be spent freely.

For example, money the county receives from shared state gas taxes must, by law, be spent on transportation projects, Jordan said.

The county has more discretion on how it uses money in its general fund. The general fund has accumulated $76 million in ending and reserve balances, according to figures from Jordan.

Most of those reserves would be wiped out if the county contributes $60 million toward the cost of a new $166 million jail.

The general fund already has contributed $6.6 million to acquire land along Highway 62 for a proposed new jail with up to 800 beds.

The new jail would replace the current 315-bed jail near downtown Medford, which regularly releases inmates early due to overcrowding.

Jackson County Sheriff Nathan Sickler hopes the issue of jail funding will go before voters in November.

A proposed service district would raise $100 million in property taxes over 20 years to help cover construction and increased operating costs for a new jail.

A larger jail is critical for improving public safety, Sickler told members of the Jackson County Budget Committee during a Tuesday meeting.

“The jail has been a weak link in the local criminal justice system for years,” he said.

The jail was built in the early 1980s when the county’s population was 134,545. The population has since grown past 219,000, according to the proposed 2019-2020 budget document.

Sickler reported crime dropped slightly in Jackson County from 2017 to 2018 — but calls for service jumped from more than 52,000 to nearly 59,000.

Although he isn’t asking for more staff for the coming fiscal year, Sickler said Sheriff’s Office employees are under strain from the workload.

Emergency response times went up from 8.7 minutes in 2017 to 11.3 minutes in 2018, he said.

Jail employees worked 24,000 hours of overtime in 2018, he said.

Sickler’s goals for 2019 include lowering response times, reducing forced overtime and providing more mental health and addiction treatment services within the jail.

Throughout Jackson County government, the number of full-time equivalent employees will drop from 884.15 in the current fiscal year to 878.05 in the coming year.

The Health and Human Services Department is taking the biggest hit with a cut of 14.1 full-time equivalent employees. The department has struggled since losing contracts to provide mental health care to people on the Oregon Health Plan.

The county-run Rogue Valley International-Medford Airport will add a custodian, a maintenance worker and a project program coordinator due to burgeoning passenger numbers. The airport topped more than 1 million commercial passengers in 2018.

Passenger counts have increased by 60 percent compared to five years ago, said Jerry Brienza, airport director.

He predicts a 10-15 percent increase in passengers for the coming fiscal year.

Jackson County’s property tax rate will remain at almost $2.01 per $1,000 of assessed property value — or $377.70 for a home assessed at the county average of $187,910.

If voters approve funding for a new jail, property taxes on the average home would increase $156.96.

Meanwhile, Jordan said the county is continuing to cope with the loss of shared timber revenue off federal land inside the county’s borders.

The county’s last full payment was $15.1 million for the 1991-1992 fiscal year — or $28 million in today’s dollars. The most recent federal payment was $4.2 million, according to budget figures.

The Budget Committee will meet again at 9 a.m. Thursday in the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford, to continue budget discussions.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Jackson{ } County offices. Photo courtesy jacksoncounty.org