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Jackson County financial reserves grow despite COVID-19, fires

Jackson County is proposing a $474 million budget for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch
County has $190 million in savings

Jackson County’s projected financial reserves have grown to nearly $190.1 million despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and destructive fires.

That figure is part of the recommended budget for the coming fiscal year that starts July 1. The stockpiled savings are made up of contingency funds, ending fund balances and reserves.

The recommended budget, which has to add in those financial reserves alongside expenses, is $474 million.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the county budgeted nearly $173.6 million in financial reserves. Officials weren’t sure how much the crisis would upend the budget, which totaled $429.8 million.

But Jackson County remains on strong financial footing, according to this year’s audit of its records.

“We’re saving even more money,” said County Administrator Danny Jordan.

The county has spent years strengthening its financial position through challenges like economic recessions and logging cutbacks that slashed timber revenues that are shared with counties.

Infusions of money from the federal government and state have helped Jackson County weather much of the COVID-19 crisis.

Looking forward, the county expects to receive $42.8 million from the American Rescue Plan, which was passed by Congress and signed into law in March by President Joe Biden, said Jordan.

The $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill was the latest round of funding approved by Congress to offset the effects of the pandemic.

The county also expects to get reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its work addressing the pandemic and the September 2020 fires and their aftermath, Jordan said.

Jordan said keeping money in reserve saves the county and its residents money. For example, some jurisdictions have so little carryover money that they have to borrow in order to tide themselves over until property tax revenue comes in. Jackson County can avoid that practice.

Jackson County Citizens Budget Committee member Craig Morris said the county is continuing to make excellent progress in building its reserves.

“It’s a remarkable financial performance by the county,” Morris said.

But he said the committee should have a discussion about whether the reserves should keep growing or plateau.

Jordan said the county is facing many costly projects in the future that could eat into the reserves.

Jackson County Circuit Court doesn’t have enough judges or building space to adequately handle the workload, and the Jackson County Animal Shelter is too small and outdated, he said.

Jordan said The Expo could use a new multi-function building for indoor recreation that could also serve as a shelter. The Expo regularly hosts stranded travelers when snowstorms shut down I-5. In the fall of 2020, it was the largest evacuation and shelter location for people who fled the Almeda and South Obenchain fires.

The Expo has also hosted COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

Jordan said the Jackson County Jail, built in 1981, is too small for the current population.

Voters soundly defeated a May 2020 ballot measure to fund the construction and operation of a larger jail through higher property taxes. The county had offered to contribute $60 million from its reserves to augment the contribution from property taxes.

The Jackson County Citizens Budget Committee will continue meeting next week to hear details about the proposed fiscal year 2021-2022 budget.

The committee meets via publicly accessible videoconference, telephone, television and website service at 8:30 a.m. and noon Tuesday, April 13, and at 9 a.m. Thursday, April 15.

For details, visit jacksoncounty.org.

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