Last week Jackson’s Town Council approved a final draft of the town’s budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1. After more than ten hours of meetings and in-depth discussion about different possibilities, Town Council reached consensus on various cuts to create a balanced budget for the coming year. Discussions focused on the expected loss of revenue due to COVID-19 as well as the challenge of ever-increasing services and costs for providing them, a reality the town was facing before the pandemic arrived.
Reductions in the budget include a decrease in capital expenditures and substantial reductions in departments and core programs services below FY20 levels. The largest decreases are in Fire/EMS (13%), Police (16%), Public Works (23%), and START Bus (14%). There will not be any layoffs at this point, but some open positions will not be hired and are currently frozen.
The significant cuts are being made to account for the projected downturn in sales and lodging tax of 50% or $7.5 million in the coming year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the weeks since staff presented a first draft, Council worked through the budget line by line to understand and reach consensus about priorities. While the budget’s initial draft proposed funding social services below requested amounts, Town Councilors were unanimous in agreeing these organizations provide services that are a priority now more than ever and fully funded their requests. Vice Mayor Hailey Morton Levinson shared, “The safety net the caring sector provides our community is facing increased demand for services as repercussions from the pandemic begin to appear. We all felt the need to prioritize funding there.”
In order to fully fund Council’s priorities and balance the budget, the town will utilize funds from its reserve account. Reserves will cover expenses in the near-term, but this budget presents a one-time fix, so different solutions will be necessary going forward. Councilor Arne Jorgensen notes, “At our retreat in January, we talked about the need for more revenue. COVID came along and changed quite a lot, but that underlying need has not shifted. It has only increased. I look at the use of the reserve funds as a buffer. We are in extremely anxious times and having these savings to use is a buffer against that anxiety, but it is a short-term solution. My sense is that, for the longer-term, adding an additional cent of sales tax is a necessity.”
Nearing completion of the budget process, Council’s vote on adopting it will take place at its regularly scheduled meeting at 6:00pm on Monday, June 15. With so many unknowns in terms of revenue, Town Council has requested that staff provide regular budget updates throughout the year as the economy continues to stabilize and recover.