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News County budget on track for approval

Macon County has traditionally contributed $200,000 annually to the SCC Jackson campus for administrative costs. County manager Derek Roland has proposed cutting that back to around $39,000 to help offset operational increases at the Macon Campus.Original proposal amended with $200,000 increase

Macon County Manager Derek Roland presented the board of commissioners with changes to the 2014-15 fiscal year budget during Tuesday night’s monthly meeting.

Roland proposed increasing the overall budget from $45.5 million to $45.7 million, a $200,000 increase. The May 31 budget work session afforded commissioners the opportunity to listen to stakeholders requesting additional taxpayer funds. With requests coming from different organizations, Roland weighed the options and proposed taking $200,000 from the county’s fund balance to provide additional funds for the budget. The budget proposed is a balanced, revenue neutral budget that was constructed without the need of a county-wide tax increase.

While the county as a whole will not see a tax increase, the proposed budget has established tax increases for two fire districts to cover the operational costs and the need to upgrade equipment.

Mountain Valley Fire Department requested an increase of .077 to .080 in order to be able to fund driving training and to meet the needs of rising fuel costs. Commissioner James Tate, liaison to the fire departments, recommended the Mountain Valley’s tax increase and was funded as requested.

Clarks Chapel requested an increase from .042 to .059 in order to buy new equipment such as air packs and extrication equipment. The increase would also help offset the cost of increases in loan payments and truck maintenance. Tate recommended that Clarks Chapel be granted an increase to .055, after comparing the department to similar sized departments with similar call volumes. Clarks Chapel responds to about 400 calls per year.

Southwestern Community College requests operational funds

When constructing his original budget, Roland found a line item of $200,000 that was allocated each year to Southwestern Community College. The $200,000 was designated to the Jackson County campus of SCC to handle administration costs associated with Macon County students.

While the $200,000 has been given annually, the line item was established before SCC’s Macon Campus was established. Roland informed commissioners that due to the increased demand for funds at the Macon Campus, and the master plan to expand the Macon Campus to reach similar operational levels as Jackson, he recommended the $200,000 no longer be given to the Jackson Campus. Roland did however, retain full funding to SCC’s Macon Campus in his proposed budget.

During the May 31 work session, SCC Board of Trustees member Terry Bell spoke to commissioners to request addtional funds for SCC. According to Bell, the Macon Campus has seen an increased need in operational costs to the tune of about $50,162.

Although Bell requested Macon County consider reinstating the full $200,000, on Tuesday night, Roland proposed adding $39,400 to the budget to help offset the operational increases at the Macon Campus.

“SCC asked for a little over $50,000 but after looking at their costs and operations, I think we can get that cost down to about $39,000 and that is what I am proposing to you tonight,” said Roland.

Although SCC has a campus in Macon, Jackson and Swain counties, Macon is the only county that provides funds for the other county’s operational costs.

The three campuses of SCC all have students that are from neighboring counties. For example, for the 2013 Summer, Fall, and Spring academic year the Macon Campus reported having 438 students from Macon County, 24 students from Jackson County, three students from Swain County and 31 students from other counties who attended SCC as curriculum students.

Jackson County’s campus reported 353 students from Macon County, 680 from Jackson, 228 from Swain and 331 from other counties. The campus in Swain County reported 15 students from Macon County, 20 from Jackson, 12 from Swain and 20 from other counties as curriculum students. When including SCC’s Workforce Innovations programs, the college serves between 6,000 to 7,000 students from WNC counties each year.

Additional budgeted items

SCC is not the only item in the budget that is funded with the help of neighboring Jackson County. After hearing from Bonnie Peggs with the REACH Board of Directors last month, Roland proposed including $30,000 in the upcoming budget to fund a new shelter. Jackson County has contributed $25,000 to REACH’s goal of raising $300,000 in matching funds for a $600,000 grant. The grant will be used toward the overall $1 million project of constructing a new shelter for domestic violence victims in Jackson and Macon counties.

Since the Macon County Detention Center’s recent inmate escape, Roland proposed providing the Sheriff’s Department with additional funds to increase security at the detention center’s intake area.

Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland spoke to commissioners Tuesday night about the need for additional perimeter fencing around the loading area of the detention center where inmates are brought when being placed into the detention center.

Roland proposed increasing the budget by $10,600 to cover the costs of additional constantine perimeter fencing around the gate.

Commissioner Ron Haven noted that while he supported the fencing project, a long term solution should be explored as more funding becomes available. “I went and met with Sheriff Holland and looked at what he is asking us for,” said Haven. “I really think he is asking for the bare minimum here because he knows the budget is tight. I think this is something we need to do.”

Originally, the Macon County School system requested $297,000 for capital outlay expenditures, for which Roland allocated $99,035 in his original budget. After hearing from school board members on May 31, Roland cited aging schools in the district as being the reason to increase the district’s capital outlay expenditures to $199,035.

“Some of the schools are 10 and 15 years old and need some improvements,” said Roland. “By increasing the capital outlay allocation, I think the school system will be able to do that.”

An additional $15,000 was also added to the budget Tuesday night to help fund the cost of operating Macon County's Community Care Clinic. Roland had originally zeroed out the line item for the clinic, but after discussion amongst the board, he recommended providing funds to ensure the clinic can continue operations.

The last of the proposed budget increases came for the increased costs for operations and maintenance as a result of Highlands’ new recreation facility at Zachary Park. Last year, commissioners approved funding to purchase the property for the new park and due to an increase in demand on employees, Roland recommended $5,000 to help cover the costs.

County Commissioner Paul Higdon commended Roland on his efforts to maintain a fiscally responsible budget. “I think you employed an analytical approach to this budget that has not been done in the past,” said Higdon. “I think it's a turnaround for this county.”

Although a public hearing was held Tuesday to give the public an opportunity to comment on the budget, no one signed up to speak to the board.

Commissioners are scheduled to meet on Monday, June 16, at 6 p.m. to vote on the budget.





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