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Jackson County starts 2009 on positive note
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JEFFERSON — Jackson County is poised for growth this year despite the economic downturn, but will need to watch its spending to keep from using too much of its revenues for debt payments, according to the county’s 2008 financial report.

Bates, Carter and Co., a Gainesville-based auditing service, conducted the county’s annual audit and offered Jackson County officials some insight into the county’s finances from 2008 and the forecast for 2009.

When all the revenues and expenditures were calculated for 2008, Jackson County came close to breaking even, collecting $55.36 million in revenues while spending $50.62 million in government- and
business-related expenses.

"The general fund revenues exceeded expenditures by just a little under $500,000. Considering how the economy was ... I think that’s quite well," said Duane Schlereth of Bates, Carter and Co. at the May 18 county commission meeting. "Most of your expenditures are capital outlay — $36 million — that’s up from last year, and the increase is due to the construction of the new jail."

The county issued $45 million in economic development bonds to fund different projects designed to "promote commercial and industrial development within the county," according to the report.

Along those same lines, Jackson County used special purpose local option sales tax funds on construction of the new jail, renovations to the historic courthouse and construction of the safety training facility.

"The idea is to have the infrastructure in place to be in a position to attract quality industrial and commercial growth that will in the end grow the digest so that we will not be too top heavy with residential," said John Hulsey, Jackson County’s finance director.

That same $45 million in bonds to increase commercial development also has affected the amount the county spends each year to make payments on debts — a section of the county’s finances that Schlereth said officials will have to watch this year.

"Long-term debt is up over last year, primarily because of the $45 million in economic development bonds that were issued. Your debt service was 15.49 percent this year compared to 13.04 (percent) for other counties, and that’s up a little from last year where you were 12.2 percent," Schlereth said.

"What this shows is depending on how much revenue increases over the next few years, you’re going to be spending close to 20 percent of your revenues toward debt payments. I caution you related to any additional borrowing, any additional debt. There’s not a whole lot of wiggle room."

Jackson County also has seen a decrease in local option sales tax collections this year, Hulsey said.

"Overall, 2009 is proving to be a very challenging year for us in terms of local option sales tax," he said. "Even though we have amended our general fund budget several times, we are anticipating an $800,000-plus shortfall in sales taxes alone."

But the forecast for 2009 isn’t all bad news. Hulsey said other factors have helped lessen the effects of lower-than-predicted sales tax collections.

"We have other revenues that are ahead of budgeted projections or expenditures that are below budgeted projections that are helping to mitigate the decline in sales tax revenues," he said.

The report notes other positive economic indicators, such as the county’s increase in industrial projects. Aldi Corp., Roper Pump Co. and Louisiana-Pacific Corp. have expressed interest in expanding their work in Jackson County.

Also, the report notes that in April 2009, "the county responded to more economic development projects than it did the last quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009."

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