Jackson County Commission Chairman Tim Guffey called a special budget meeting for May 29, 2019 to address the budget issues affecting the county.

Present at the meeting were all Jackson County commissioners, Jackson County Administrator Bob Manning, Jackson County Human Resources Director Michele Prince Willis, Probate Judge Victor Manning, Revenue Commissioner Jeff Arnold, Jackson County Sheriff Chuck Phillips and Jackson County Deputy Chief Rocky Harnen.
County Administrator Bob Manning walked the commission through the designation of funds and explained the revenues and deficits. Currently, the county is facing a deficit of $300,000+. “Just rounding this off, there’s about $800,000 in losses. There’s about $400,000 in gains. Roughly just right now, you’re roughly around $350,000 - $400,000.” Manning also addressed the proposed distribution of funds from the internet sales tax. “It will be 8% sales tax no matter where you live. Four percent the state’s keeping, which is their normal 4% rate, and they’re giving the education 25% of that money. So that’s where the 25% they’re wanting to take from the counties and the cities, that’s where that’s coming from.”
Currently, the county depends on revenue from the state that is collected from the consumers of the electricity generated by TVA. In lieu of paying taxes on their revenue, TVA pays a percentage of what comes in from the consumers. Commissioner Jason Venable stated, “You know, we found out that 80% of the calculation that the state does is off of residential power sells, so if you have a mild winter and a mild summer, and everybody’s power bill is less, then our check is going to be less. And also, Jackson County’s not growing at the same rate as Madison and Limestone. We’ve got to come up with some way to either make $335,000 or we’ve got to figure out a way of cutting out $335,000.”
What followed was the commissioners and county staff going line by line through the budget with Manning explaining each line item. Each cost was discussed and debated, with the commissioners deducting each cent they could spare from the deficit. The commissioners also discussed absorbing SeniorRx into Council on Aging (COA), which would be a minimum $20,000 savings, using current staff. Guffey stated the county has asked the City of Scottsboro to cover at least 50% in operating costs for the COA, since about 80% of the citizens who utilize COA transportation every day are Scottsboro city residents, which could potentially save the county $100,000 - $150,000. This was discussed as an option, but no permanent decisions were made.
Courthouse security was looked at. Commission Chairman Guffey stated, “We’re going to be losing one deputy that’s leaving that’s on the door, but we’ve got to keep two deputies, so what I propose is we shut down the door close to the sheriff’s office and just have one entry into the courthouse and have those two deputies. This will help.” When Homeland Security inspected the courthouse, the county was advised that keeping one door open would be the safest option.
Jackson County Human Resources Director Michele Prince Willis explained that closing the door will save the county an estimated $40,000 per year. Willis also went in-depth about the county’s high turnover rate. The time and money that goes into hiring and training a new employee is extensive. Advertising, interviewing, training. Workers’ comp also goes up because of injuries due to a frenzied workforce trying to meet deadlines with a deficit of workers. The conflict lies in a heavy workload divided among a skeleton crew with no room for raises and costs of benefits. No matter how the county wishes to take care of their employees, they are still dealing with a turnover rate of about 24%. This means the employees who are left have to deal with an 85% participation workload. Willis stated as soon as they get the new employee hired, another one quits and the process starts all over again. Last year, the county was forced to cut 47 out of 230 employees with each department feeling the blow.
Jackson County Sheriff Chuck Phillips explained the lengthy process involved before a deputy is allowed to drive by themselves. This means another deputy must be present with the new deputy at all times, which cuts down on manpower and places a heavier workload on the Sheriff Department trying to meet the needs of the jail and the rest of the county. Jackson County Chief Deputy Rocky Harnen also explained the costs involved in hiring a new deputy. The training, hours and equipment all can be extensive to ensure a thorough process. In law enforcement, anything less than thorough is unacceptable and would be detrimental to society. All this training and orientation is accomplished only to have the new hire move to a new agency because of better benefits or a lighter workload.
Jackson County Revenue Commissioner Jeff Arnold proposed the county bill his office for courthouse security, infusing an estimated $40,000 back into the budget. Jackson County Probate Judge Victor Manning explained that since the county pays his office and the Sheriff Department, billing them would be the same difference, but when billing Revenue, it would be revenue to the county.
As of yet, no new budget meeting has been scheduled but Guffey stated this was just the first of many to come. He also stressed the commission is looking forward to working with the community and the press to get the budget fixed and to find a solution. Commissioners stated they did not want to take away from employees and wanted everyone to know that would be a last resort. Cutting programs is also something they would like to avoid, and they’re optimistic they can reach their goal by working together with each other and legislators.

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