Davin Eldridge – Contributing Writer
Franklin’s Town Council unanimously approved the town’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year as it was presented by Town Manager Summer Woodard. But before the board voted to approve the budget, Franklin resident and former town employee Angela Moore gave the board a dressing down for over-spending. “Considering the town has decided to raise our taxes by 14.3 percent this year – this is after raises of four, five, six seven eight percent over the course of the last six to eight years – we’ve had a couple of years without raises, but those raises keep coming.” The raises, she noted, totaled just eight pennies over the last five years for town residents. “When we look at it in comparison to what our taxes were several years ago, four cents on the dollar, it’s a significant raise. We’re talking about a 33 percent raise, if you’re looking at it over the last few years.” Moore did the math for the board. At a four cent raise, is a 14.3 percent rate hike. “I know it’s difficult to cut the budget, and I know there are a lot of projects everyone wants to do. The reality is we are in a huge amount of debt. Millions. Over, I think, $12 million in debt. We pay over $225,000 – almost the amount of that four percent tax raise in interest. Just to be clear, that money’s not going into services, that money’s not going to personnel, that money’s not going to concrete assets – it is going to interest. We have to stop taking on new projects. We have to stop taking on pet projects. We have to start looking at any place we can cut. We have lots of fun tourism projects that everyone seems to love, and I’ll be honest, there’s a few of them that I’ve even enjoyed over the years The reality is that those things need to be taken off of the town’s budget and if the TDA would like to continue them they may. The reality is that most of these events are attended not mainly by the people who live in the town but mainly by people who live in the county and not the town. All of us live in the county. We pay county taxes. The idea because it’s in the Franklin town limits it has to come out of the Franklin town budget is unreasonable. It is something for the sole purpose of entertainment and tourism, then it needs to come out of our budget and go to the tourism development groups.” She named events like Pickin’ on the Square, bathrooms, fireworks, chamber of commerce, economic development festivals. “They are all nice programs… We can cut that 14 percent, if we’re willing to make some hard choices.” “The town consistently gives 2 percent cost of living raises. This adds up. The reality is most businesses around here aren’t getting those cost of living raises. The town also pays for dental insurance for its employees – something that we don’t see either. Moore also pointed out teachers don’t get dental or cost of living raises until a certain amount of time has passed. Longevity pay, which the town offers, she also took on, stating most town jobs do not, in fact, have high turnover. “Longevity pay is not going to improve the high turnover rate in the few administrative positions that do have difficulty with turnover. It is simply, I think, a feel-good thing because you know the people who work here. You like them. You care about them, you know? You want to give them more compensation. We have to run this more like a business, not like a charity.” Nonprofit funding was next on her list. “We have some fantastic ones in our town. But that’s a big chunk of money. It is not going to infrastructure. It is being taken from the citizens here, and it is being redistributed here by you. I don’t get a say in where my money is going to. I don’t get a say if I want to donate money. It is taken – from me – without my permission [laughing], and you give it to a charity of your choice. That is just not okay. I would really encourage you guys to take that off – particularly in light of the fact that you can’t pay your bills without raising taxes 14.3 percent. “I would just encourage you, as the town discusses the budget, to not discuss a 4 percent increase. Discuss the 14-plus percent increase. Because that’s going to drive that point home. It’s going to remind you what you’re putting on the people and the citizens here. Thank you for your time.” With that, the board began discussing the budget, as it contains the four-cent increase in the ad-valorem tax rate. The increase would bring the rate of twenty-eight cents per one hundred dollars of valuation to thirty-two cents. As Mayor Bob Scott mentioned during a recent budget meeting, the increase would generate approximately $240,000 a year, so that the board wouldn’t need to draw from its general fund. The proposed budget did include a tax increase, and needed just under $240,000 in the town’s general fund balance to even itself out. It also included various items the town had previously cut – totaling some $71,500 – which nixed a patrol car, maintenance fees and economic development funding reaching into the thousands each. “For the most part I appreciate Angela’s comments because it does make you think,” said Councilman Joe Collins. “I’m okay with Pickin’, because I can look at it as economic development.” He added that he viewed the interest the town pays as a necessary evil, because it allows for the town to do bigger things. Fellow Councilman Adam Kimsey also expressed understanding to both sides of the issue. “Nothing gets cheaper,” he said, adding that he was in agreement with David Culpepper’s position regarding nonprofits having suspect fees and conditions of membership. But of the the town’s budget Kimsey was “pretty firmly in support.” Mayor Bob Scott re-centered the conversation. “We have a few things to hash out,” he said. “There is some concern about some of the legalities of the nonprofits, I agree.” Councilwoman Barbara McRae said she wants to put discussion of funding nonprofits off another year. “They perform civic services and we need to look and make sure that everyone’s meeting that standard. We got a good system.” According to Culpepper, who, during the budget workshop, was skeptical of many of the expenses, was accepting of some increase. “There wasn’t much we could do to not have a tax increase,” he said, suggesting longer term planning for town funded projects. “How do we repopulate the general fund? With more strategic thinking, long term. That’s a conversation we need to look at before the next budget session starts.” In the end, while these and a solution for use of public restrooms at the courthouse were discussed prior to the vote; no additional cuts were made by the council members. The town council agreed to continue funding nonprofit organizations at the current rate of $40,000. This will be up for reconsideration next year. The town also approved setting aside $23,000 in capital outlay for a portable restroom trailer, which would be an alternative to the use of the public restrooms at the courthouse during town-sponsored events. Because of security reasons stated by the county, the town was originally not allowed to use the facilities. However, the two entities appear to have worked out a solution, which would require Franklin police to monitor the facilities. “We’ll make it work, whatever you decide,” said FPD Chief David Adams. Discussion over police supervision of bathroom facilities got heated, and went on for several minutes. In the end, however, Councilman Brandon McMahan motioned to accept the budget as presented, Kimsey seconded, and the motion passed 4-2, with Mashburn and Collins dissenting.