By Beth Lawrence, The Sylva Herald

Jackson County Finance Director Darlene Fox said the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected the county’s ability to put together a budget, but it may impact the final outcome.

All departments and organizations have submitted their projected budgets and made financial requests despite having to adapt to new methods of operation due to the pandemic.

“A few were delayed but in by the time I needed to process for budget reports,” Fox said. “I have extended the deadline for a few nonprofits to have their applications submitted.”

Despite the delays, preparation of the budget is on schedule and department meetings began this week.

The Board of Commissioners will have a first look at the budget, including requests and projects on May 12. The completed budget should be submitted to the board by June 1.

The state has made provisions for counties to pass interim budgets if needed, but Fox believes Jackson’s budget will be ready by the June 30 deadline.

Fox and County Manager Don Adams, who is working part time while recovering from a health issue, consider a number of components when creating the budget.

“We look at the requests from our departments and agencies, look at revenues over the past several years, and any current situations that may have an impact on the revenues,” Fox said.

They also consider appeals for department or agency funding based on how that entity impacts the county and its residents along with whether there is money in the budget to fund the program, budget increase or request for financial support.

When making those decisions this year, the county will need to consider the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has on the county’s coffers.

“I expect to see a decline in sales tax revenue and fees,” Fox said. “Some items may have to be delayed until we see the total impact.”

She also expects to see reductions in the amount of certain fees coming in.

Property taxes may also be impacted in the next year. 

“The current year property tax revenue is at 99.05 percent of the budgeted amount; at this point, I think the property tax revenue will be fine,” she said. “The bills will go out in August and won’t be considered past due until the first of January.”

When deciding what to fund, decision-makers would likely cancel capital projects or decline to fund new programs. Some may only need to be delayed a few months until the full impact of the pandemic is known.

Jackson County is fortunate that there is money in the fund balance to offset some of the losses, Fox said.