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Jackson County approves $7 million for school safety improvements

Residents in Jackson County approved a sales tax referendum with nearly two-thirds of Jackson County voters voting in favor of a referendum question allowing the county to increase the county’s sales tax by one fourth of a cent in 2016. The measure increased the county’s sales tax from 6.75 to 7 percent and generates around an additional $1.2 million a year for the county.

North Carolina offers individual counties the option to increase the 6.75 percent statewide sales tax to an even 7 percent, with all revenues from the extra quarter-cent going back to the county — the base 6.75 percent sales tax is shared between the county and state.

Like most counties across the state, even with the COVID19 Pandemic, sales tax collections have either remained steady or have increased over prior fiscal years. Jackson County currently has $4.8 million in revenues from the education sales tax funds, which are mandated to fund school projects. By fiscal year 2022 they’re expected to hold $7.3 million, reaching $10.1 million by 2023. The project will run over multiple fiscal years, so the money is there to fund it.

This year, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved $7 million for security upgrades at four schools within the county, Smoky Mountain High School, Fairview Elementary School, Smokey Mountain Elementary School and Blue Ridge School/Blue Ridge Early College— with a bulk of the funding for the project coming from the education sales tax. 

The project will convert four of the county’s school campuses to a single-point-of-entry system and will fund the project from sales tax proceeds. Jackson County has debated the project for years, with a price estimate first being considered in 2018. The final cost outlined in the winning bid last this week was nearly three times higher than the $2.5 million estimated by architect John Cort in a 2018.

The county’s four other schools, Scotts Creek Elementary School, Cullowhee Valley Elementary School, Jackson Community School and Jackson County Early College has been previously connected to single-point-of-entry and were able to be converted at minimal cost. The remaining four schools will take significant more work to complete. 

To convert Smoky Mountain High School, Jackson County is looking at spending $2.5 million, Fairview Elementary School bid was $1.8 million, Blue Ridge School was $1.7 million and the bid for Smokey Mountain Elementary School was $850,000. 

Locally owned Buchanan and Sons Inc. out of Whittier was the lowest bidder for the project and was awarded the contract. 

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