Brittney Lofthouse — Staff Writer
An early look at the town of Franklin fiscal year budget has town leaders considering a tax increase in order to be able to fully fund town services. Monday afternoon, town manager Summer Woodard informed members of the Franklin Town Council that while expected expenditures are still being calculated by department heads, the town is looking at a decrease in overall revenues. While the projected revenues only slightly decrease, Woodard informed the board that department heads are struggling to keep budget requests flat in order to not have any additional expenditures in the upcoming year. .
“So much of what we depend on has been cut on the state and federal level, that we keep asking our town employees to do more with less,” said Franklin Mayor Bob Scott. “I really think the time has come to where we have to either consider a tax increase or we have to start cutting services and non-essential programs such as funding to the non profit funding pool or funding for town festivals.”
Mayor Bob Scott proposed the idea of a tax increase to the board in the coming fiscal year. A one cent tax increase for residents living in the town of Franklin would generate $60,000 in additional funds for the town’s budget. With a current tax rate of 28 cents, one of the lowest in the state and the lowest municipal rate in western North Carolina, residents with a home valuation of $100,000 pay $280 in town taxes a year.
“So if we were to increase the tax rate to, lets say, 32 cents, that would mean on a $100,000 house, residents would have to pay $320 a year in taxes or an additional $40 a year,” said council member David Culpepper. “And that extra $40 a year per household would mean an additional $240,000 for the town.”
Culpepper said he wasn’t sure if he would be in favor of a tax increase at this point in the budget process or not, but wanted to put into perspective what such a proposal would mean for homeowners within the city limits.
“Before we burden residents with a tax increase, I think we should have something tangible to show them as to what the increase will be funding,” said Culpepper.
“Would we be burdening them with a tax increase, or would we be asking them to pay for services that they can’t afford on their own?,” asked Mayor Scott.
Councilmember Brandon McMahan agreed with Culpepper and said that before considering a tax increase, he would like to see a detailed explanation of what could be funded with the additional revenue.
“With the additional money, the town would be like a child on Christmas,” said Mayor Scott. “Give me some money, and I’ll find something to do with it.”
Scott said that every department within the town is strapped for funding and everything from streets and sidewalks to new police vehicles could be possible if additional funding was available.
Councilmember Barbara McRae said that if additional funding was available, she would like to see some of the money to go toward a grant writing position or contract services that could help the town secure grant opportunities that could fund services and improvements within the city limits that would free up town operating dollars for other needs.
Woodard cautioned board members, that while the town could make it another year without a budget increase, there are needs within the town such as aging utility vehicles that will need to be addressed sooner rather than later. The town’s street sweeper is about ready to let it go, and going down the street is a challenge. To replace the vehicle, the town would be looking at a $320,000 expense, but with the street sweeper about ready to let go, it shimmy’s into the garage once or twice a month. Woodard said the town can’t just keep fixing it up and passing it off now.
Councilmember Dinah Mashburn said she would also need to know specifics of where money would be spent prior to considering a tax increase.
Franklin’s tax rate has not always been as historically low as it currently is, however. According to Woodard, dating back to 2005, Franklin’s tax rate was 43 cents, but town leaders more than 10 years ago lowered the rate and the overall budget. Franklin’s rate was 26 cents per $100 valuation about four years ago when the town of Franklin saw its most recent tax increase to the current 28 cents. For comparison, the town of Sylva’s tax rate is currently 42.5 cents, and Sylva town leaders are currently considering a tax increase to be able to adequately fund services.
The next step in the budget process is for department heads to submit their budget requests to the town manager, who will evaluate the needs before presenting them to the board.