By Kristin Fox
For the last five years, the office of the Jackson County manager has presented an annual report on the various departments that comprise the county government. This year’s Jackson County Report to the Citizens 2023-2024 Edition was presented to the Board of Commissioners for their approval at their first regular meeting of July.
The fifth annual report was the work of intern Haydn Hedberg who is working toward obtaining a Master of Public Affairs (MPA) degree from Western Carolina University. Hedberg was hired by the county with the directive to meet with each department, complete research and then compile information on Jackson County operations into an annual report.
The result of Hedberg’s work is a 98-page document detailing all the ins and outs of the departments and programs of Jackson County. Fiscal Year 2023-24 departmental goals have been included in the report as well. The annual report is available for the public to view on the county’s website www.jacksonnc.org.
County Manager Don Adam stated he brings in interns who believe that they want to get into either local government management or eventually some type of town or county management to complete the annual project.
“The intention of publishing this report is to inform and educate citizens about Jackson County local government, thus allowing citizens to become more engaged and creating a more transparent and accountable county government,” said Adams. “It is the intention of this office to reissue this report on an annual basis.”
The table of contents organizes the departments and programs in Jackson County into several different sections to make it easy for the reader to find areas of the county government they are interested in learning more about. The sections include governance, administration and finance, records and development, economic development, human services, government services and government support. The report also includes an organizational flow chart of the Jackson County government.
A section on the board of commissioners is included in the report and includes the commissioners’ mission statement — “To represent the best long-term interests of all citizens of Jackson County by providing effective leadership and clear direction.” In addition, the section outlines the board’s beliefs and visions for the county.
The administration section includes the description of the role of the county manager as well as the departmental goals for the fiscal year 2023-2024.
Departmental goals for FY 2023-2024 include:
• Continue to perform the statutory duties as described in the sections of the report.
• Complete aquatics center construction and open facility.
• Complete design and start construction on Cashiers’ splash pad.
• Complete domestic violence shelter design and start construction within the fiscal year.
• Engage architectural services to complete schematic design work and cost estimates for the Justice Center.
• Develop additional programming expenditure priorities for ARPA funds.
• Develop plan for the expenditure of opioid settlement funds, partner with Sheriff’s Jail MAT program.
• Develop plan for expanding peer support and other substance abuse services with the county.
• Continue Citizen Academy Program.
• Update Jackson County Annual Report to the Citizens.
Hedberg began his presentation to the board by recognizing the public works department. The public works department consists of five major divisions – garage, grounds, housekeeping, maintenance, and solid waste. Crews in each of these divisions are instrumental in all the functions of county government.
“I personally feel the public works department is the backbone of Jackson County,” said Hedberg. “Absolutely nothing would happen at all without the public works department; if something is wrong, if something goes wrong, they are there.”
Within the solid waste section, the report highlights the Jackson County Green Energy Park. The energy park utilizes clean, renewable energy resources to encourage economic development, provide environmental protection, and offer educational opportunities that will help move Western North Carolina to a more sustainable future. Located in Dillsboro, the energy park captures methane gas from the old town landfill and uses the gas as fuel for a series of artisan studios, including glasswork, blacksmithing, ceramics and an art gallery.
“I was fascinated by this very unique asset that the county has and how it came to be,” said Hedberg. “The community had a problem with a decaying landfill, and the county stepped up and turned it into a unique asset that has acquired the attention of markets and artisans nationally. The energy park has attracted many people to the community.”
Hedberg also credited the county with turning another problem into a solution.
“In June 2023, the Jackson County Animal Rescue Center was completed and has been a wonderful asset to the county,” said Hedberg. “It’s right next to the Green Energy Park, and it is certainly very welcoming and encourages people coming there to adopt in a great way. Knowing that strays are a health concern, it’s another example of the county turning a problem into a wonderful solution.”
“I can say with confidence that I am proud to be a resident of Jackson County,” concluded Hedberg. “While we certainly have our problems that we have to deal with, I am very confident that this community can come together and work to address them.”
Commissioners voted unanimously to adopt the 2023-2024 Jackson County Report to the Citizens.