Davin Eldridge – Contributing Writer
Franklin’s Town Council met last Tuesday for its budget work session. The name of the game was simple—identifying expenditures to cut, and voting on the proposed tax increase. Everything from unavoidable flood insurance costs, electric bicycles, street lights near the new Ingles, fuel costs and port-o-potties were discussed. The rate hike, however, was seen as necessary, albeit reluctantly by some board members.
Mayor Bob Scott began with opening remarks, all of which touch on the town’s slowly changing face in a fast and brave new world:
“We’re gonna be faced with decisions that have an affect on Franklin for the coming year possibly several years into the future. We must look to the future, just to say tonight we’ll keep everything as it is, because to say that’s good enough will no longer cut it. Just remaining where we are will not keep us on top. We must look at where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. We may well have to face an unstable economy, emerging issues we cannot predict with accuracy, new civic cultures, new ways of collaborating across party and geopolitical boundaries, and massive changes in our local healthcare. We must be in a state of financial condition to face these changes and capitalizes on opportunities that will be presented as a result of these challenges. We’re seeing new residents with varying cultural, political and assorted lifestyles. We must remain in tune to these changes, and not look at them as obstacles, but as opportunities. As such, we must remain fiscally responsible, while at the same time, becoming more comfortable with our financial standing being careful not to be frivolous. We must recognize that Franklin is changing, and we as the town board must recognize that we must change with it. We can do this, as long as we do not get in the mindset that ‘everything is fine the way it is.’ We need to do more than just get by.”
With that, Scott once again asked the board to approve the proposed 4 percent tax increase, which he said was needed to make up a $238,000 shortfall to be covered by dipping into the fund balance.
In Woodard’s budget statement earlier this month, she concluded her presentation by saying, “This budget includes an appropriation in general fund of $450,000 for Powell Bill. This budget recommends a one time appropriation from general fund balance of $239,211 to address the Town’s capital outlay equipment, capital outlay improvements and infrastructure needs. This budget addresses the Town’s immediate needs while maintaining a stable fund balance and providing quality services in a cost effective manner.”
Early on, there was reluctance by some board members over the proposed increase, while others somewhat favored it.
I really think we need to do it,” said council member Barbara McRae. “I would be for it. There are so many things we just can’t do because were so tight. We have to take into account the effect this has on our citizens, and we do this for our citizens.”
“Even with a four percent increase and we all supported it, we still have to make cuts,” said council member David Culpepper.
“There’s one or two things where we can probably make a cut,” said Scott.
Woodard noted that the budget already had several items cut from the budget, including contingencies such as $13,000 for a salt spreader, and cut economic development funding by $7,500.
“The budget that you see already had $71,500 cut out of it,” she said.
Joe Collins struggled with the increase, but only partly. He reminded the board that the town will be facing a revaluation next year, which might loosen up some cash flow.
“It used to be that we wouldn’t build the fund balance a whole lot just by how they looked at things,” he said. “I believe what’s been presented with a little bit of tweaking on a few things, would be very appropriate for this budget year. I would like to look at a two millage rate increase which would be about $120,000 with the belief the typical years would be the same as this year or last year. I’ve not known us to get into the fund balance that much before.”
“I think that leaves us where we are,” said Scott. “I don’t think that gives us the wiggle room to move ahead… At some point we’re just going to have to realize that we’re just not a little bitty town anymore. One of the realities is that 4 cents is not going to hurt anybody that much.”
“I believe we’re putting the cart before the horse,” said Culpepper. He suggested cutting more from the budget, before increasing taxes. He cited the port-o-potties, overly high project quotes, nonprofit funding and suggested combining the town’s chamber membership with its fireworks donation into one payment—to save $3,000.
At the end of the day, the main area of concern among board members was the proposal for purchasing public restrooms for town-sponsored events. Scott said while the events are vital to the town’s identity and economy, he finds paying some $23,000 for public restrooms a frivolous expense—particularly when toilets could just be rented.
“That kind of money would go a long way in purchasing a new patrol car for our police department or public works,” he said. “I don’t know that having a port-o-potty instead of something nicer will make or break us at Pumpkinfest, for instance.”
“I think the county’s been very gracious to allow us to use those bathrooms all those years,” said Dinah Mashburn. “County employees had to take care of it. I think it’s the town’s responsibility to provide a bathroom for Pickin.”
By the end of the session, a motion was introduced to approve the budget as it was presented, with an additional $23,000 included for the purchase of a mobile toilet—pending a more permanent solution. The motion passed 5 to 1, with Culpepper opposing, and the four cent increase to the ad valorem tax rate was approved—meaning the town board approved a .32 percent tax rate for Franklin—which is still among the lowest in the entire region. Following a public hearing on the approved budget, on June 4, the town will have a final vote on it.