County council discusses upcoming budget


Proposals for the 2021 Jackson County general fund budget saw the heads of 19 of 30 departments requesting either the same funding or less than they received this year.

Overall, the county’s general fund budget for 2021 is limited to $12.6 million, and the 30 departments that make up that fund have only requested $60,000 above that amount.

For comparison, the county needed to trim $1,152,128 from the first 2020 budget proposal. The final adopted general fund budget was $12.515 million.

The 2021 budget will not be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; however, the county won’t be as fortunate in the years to follow, Councilman Brian Thompson recently said.

"2022 and 2023 will be the tough ones, so we’re going to try to get prepared for them," he said.

The largest piece of the general fund is the commissioners budget at $4.5 million. That includes the salaries and benefits for many of the county’s 200-plus employees. The benefits include $1.8 million for group insurance and $840,000 for retirement. This year’s commissioners adopted budget was $4.3 million.

Another large portion of the general fund comes from the sheriff’s department. Sheriff Rick Meyer has requested a budget of $2.2 million, up from $2.04 million this year. This increase includes some expenses for the two officers that will soon be added to the department.

The budget for the county jail is down for 2021. The decrease is largely due to a change made in the jail’s kitchen. Instead of employing dedicated cooks, the jail now contracts cooks to come in and prepare food for the inmates. Thompson said the move should save more than $100,000.

Currently, there is just a 1% salary increase for employees earmarked, but Thompson would like to increase that to 3% if possible. This coming year has an additional pay period, which will have an impact because of hourly employees. This additional paycheck will cost the county around $60,000, he said.

One point of concern within the general budget is the public defender’s office requesting $700,000. Alan Marshall, the chief public defender, has asked for another public defender, which requires a mandatory secretary, Thompson said.

Currently, the state assists with 40% of these costs; however, if the county refuses to hire an additional defender, Thompson said existing funding could be pulled.

"We have to follow these rules because when we started the program, we accepted a 40% state payback," Thompson said.

The judges of the county’s three courts, Superior Court I, Superior Court II and Circuit, have requested $200,000, $365,000 and $290,000, respectively. 

Outside of the general fund, one big area of concern is the highway department, Thompson said.

While most of the COVID-19-related impact will come in 2022 and 2023, the highway department will be hit immediately, he said.

During the stay-at-home order, the department lost 30 to 50% of the revenue it receives from gasoline taxes, Thompson said. This lack of revenue could potentially impact the amount of roadwork and things the county would be able to afford to do in those years.

Other notable areas outside of the general fund are emergency medical services with a budget request of $2.5 million; the county bridge fund at $1.1 million; the health department at $585,000; and the soon-to-be-built work release center with a budget of $631,000.

The budget will next be discussed at the Sept. 16 county council meeting, where changes will be made to reach the goal of $12.6 million for the general fund. The meeting will take place at 9 a.m. at the Jackson County Courthouse, 111 S. Main St., Brownstown, and will be open to the public and press.

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