Jackson County Commissioners assembled Tuesday for their second 2020-21 budget-setting session in a process that started Monday.
The board covered a lot of ground.
They talked, for instance, about revising the way the board will, in the future, divide any uncommitted discretionary dollars that are set aside for each district as the new fiscal year starts.
For many years, when there’s something left over after the numbers are crunched at budget time, it has been the tradition to divide that money equally among the districts so that commissioners can fund special projects that, by and large, primarily benefit their jurisdictions.
However, on Tuesday, the four board members present began discussing a different approach: Dividing the money according to how many miles of road exist in each district. On Wednesday they voted to make it so.
The commissioner for the district with the most to lose under the new scenario, District 3’s ailing Commissioner Chuck Lockey, was absent from the Tuesday session. Since he is not seeking re-election, the impact of the change will be borne by whichever of the six candidates vying for the job wins on election day.
He only has 37 miles in his district, made up of the Marianna city limits and a bit beyond. Of those, only three miles are dirt. That’s 2.5 percent of the roughly 1,475 miles of road in the county; District 1 has 13.5 percent; District 2 has 22.6 percent; District 4 has 32 percent (if counting Compass Lake in the Hills); and District 5 has 29 percent. Until this year, Compass Lake in the Hills hasn’t been a factor, but the county is taking those roads back over in 2020-21.
Commissioner Dr. Willie Spires in District 1 has 204 miles (106 dirt, 22 chip-sealed, and 75 paved; Commission Chairman Clint Pate has 333 miles in District 2 (207 dirt, 13 chip-sealed and 112 paved; Commissioner James Peacock has 428 miles in District 5 (279 paved, 11 miles chip-sealed and 136 paved); and Commissioner Eric Hill has the most miles of road, at 473 (200 dirt and 133 paved. Additionally, Hill is set to inherit 11 miles of paved roads at Compass Lake in the Hills and 126 miles of dirt roads in that subdivision, now that the county prepares to take over their maintenance as the result of the dissolution of a Municipal Services Taxing Unit that once funded that community’s road work. (Editor’s note: All district mile totals above have been rounded to the nearest whole number, and the small number outfitted only with rock or millings were eliminated from the count.)
It could be a meaningless change for budget year 2020-2021, however: Budget team member Danielle McDaniel said she has no discretionary dollars set aside as yet. The preliminary working budget was presented in a balanced form on Monday with no dollars set aside in that category.
With several special projects to consider for funding through whatever’s rolled over from the current budget year, there may not be enough to spare for the discretionary line item.
The special projects list actually includes some likely must-haves, such as at least 100 active Microsoft 365 software licensing renewals to pay for in the coming year, at an estimated cost of $44,000. There are also some new positions being requested for the jail and the fire-rescue department, and a few pieces of costly road-and-bridge equipment being proposed and some cars being requested by the sheriff’s office.