Jackson County's budget committee on Thursday approved nearly $2 million in cuts to departments including public safety, health and libraries for the next fiscal year — but an 11th-hour proposal to generate additional revenue means those cuts aren't set in stone just yet.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Don Skundrick on Thursday proposed a monthly surcharge on Jackson County homes to help bolster the general fund. It would charge each residential unit — houses and apartments — anywhere from $2 to $10 a month. County staff have been directed to research whether and how the proposal could be implemented.
"It would give the county a reliable, stable funding source," Skundrick said at the budget committee meeting.
Commissioners Doug Breidenthal and John Rachor both said they were opposed to the idea philosophically, but that they would support it if a majority of the public did, too.
"Until I saw that, I'd be reluctant to support that. I do feel it's a tax," Rachor said.
Skundrick said the surcharge would generate anywhere between $1.8 million and $9.1 million in revenue, depending on how high it was set. If additional revenue sources were found, such as a renewal of county timber payments, Skundrick said the surcharge could be reduced or eliminated.
"If such a plan were to be adopted, the need for the serious budget cuts now under consideration would be unnecessary," Skundrick wrote in his proposal.
Those cuts were felt by numerous county agencies during budget hearings this week. The Sheriff's Department, Health and Human Services and libraries were among the departments whose general fund dollars will be slashed if Skundrick's proposal doesn't pan out.
The budget committee was tasked with closing a gap of about $7 million in the general fund. Part of the cuts included freezing cost-of-living wage increases on elected officials, managers and confidential employees, a savings of about $204,000.
Health and Human Services took the largest hit, with $350,000 cut. It means a closure to the jail sobering program and cuts to the veterans services program, public health and the department's 21 social service partners.
"There will certainly be a waiting list that will grow exponentially," Health and Human Services Director Mark Orndoff said of the veterans program reductions.
The department's social service agency partners already had been hit with a recommended 15 percent across-the-board reduction.
"I am astounded," said Jennifer Mylenek, executive director for CASA of Jackson County, one of the agencies affected. "I believe they're doing the best they can. I don't blame anybody in there, but it's just a sad state of affairs."
The sheriff's office received a $250,000 reduction in general fund support, which means cutting patrols. The cuts come on top of about 22 positions the department has already cut through attrition and leaving positions vacant.
"If you don't want us to go down the path of Josephine County ... we have to put the reins on the cuts to the sheriff's office," Sheriff Mike Winters said.
Rainy-day funds of about $4.75 million will tentatively be given to libraries, down from an original $5 million. Breidenthal said he didn't think it was right to ask the sheriff's department to make a cut and not ask libraries to do the same.
"If we're going to ask our sheriff to take a hit, that means we're going to have to cut everywhere. I think it's important we cut across the board before we cut public safety back," Breidenthal said.
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.