Town Council meets for final budget discussion

Franklin N.C. Town Hall photo by Vickie Carpenter

Dan Finnerty – Contributing Writer

Franklin Town Council members gathered at Town Hall Monday for a special-called meeting to again discuss the fiscal year (FY) 2023-2024 budget. Additionally, a classification and compensation study recommendation was presented and voted on. 

Mayor Jack Horton oversaw the meeting to finalize items being submitted and approved for the upcoming FY budget. Town Manager Amie Owens delivered the latest information to the Council and thanked Council Member Rita Salain for her work in combing through the budget for better clarity and accuracy. Owens pointed out that the restricted intergovernmental amount should be $375,000 and “other revenues” should be $244,250. 

Council Member Stacy Guffey asked about leaving the tax rate at $.35 (cents on the dollar) as it is now instead of reducing it to $.33 on the dollar as has been discussed in keeping with Macon County’s announced reduction of two cents for the millage rate. According to Owens, doing so would result in revenues increasing by $187,741, based on a 95% collection rate. She also cautioned that increasing the revenue would have to correspond with an expenditure(s) tied to the additional funds. With that formula, one cent in tax rate is currently worth $89,000. 

Horton acknowledged that the upcoming year ad valorem tax (property tax) is projected to be $2.85 million and based on the proposed $.33 tax rate, while the current year is expected to be $2.2 million, based on the current $.35 tax rate. Additionally, the reported increase for town property valuation over the last year was 36%. 

Owens also reported that Macon County has made adjustments after informal reviews, of almost $20 million. The county could still adjust the estimate following completed reviews. She reminded the council that the town has a balanced budget with no fund balance appropriation (think adjustment due to overspending), which was then referred to as “pretty much unheard of.” Owens went on to credit the balanced budget was “due to all of our department heads and supervisors being very fiscally responsible over the last few years to keep expenses under control as much as possible. Council Member David Culpepper also acknowledged that the projection for collection of revenue by the town was conservative, meaning it is very likely additional collection will mean a larger surplus.

Possible fire truck purchase discussed

The council spent nearly an hour discussing if or how to assist the Franklin fire department with a requested purchase for two new vehicles, one a pumper truck and the other a pumper tanker, for a total cost of approximately $1.5 million – neither of which are included in the proposed FY 2023-2024 budget. Fire Chief Ben Ormond spoke at length to the council and exchanged information with members regarding fire department support. Guffey voiced his concern with passing a budget that did not include support for fire safety, which devolved into a lengthy exchange of comments and hypotheticals that may or may not be solutions to the request posed by Ormond. Town Planner Justin Setser also advised the council that only $200,000 is due presently, in order to initiate purchase of the trucks, which is expected to take around two years.

Owens advised that some “floor model” fire trucks that can satisfy the requirement have been identified but not secured for purchase at this time. The capital improvement project (CIP) currently reflects the fire department putting $300,000 toward the down payment for the trucks. The fire chief acknowledged that a request for fire trucks was not included in the budget submitted to county commissioners. The existing fire district tax was discussed as a possible means by which the department could ensure payments on the new vehicles were made successfully for the length of whatever loan is eventually undertaken. 

Salain offered that trucks should be purchased through some means. When she queried what funds existed in the town fund balance currently, Finance Director Sarah Bishop verified the total to be $2.9 million. Vice Mayor Joe Collins commented that “it isn’t fair to the citizens [of Franklin] to undertake a separate payment for a communal effort and if we do it this year, we’ll have to do it next year and the year after – and the county won’t be inclined to raise the millage rate to compensate otherwise.” 

Culpepper then followed with his own input that “it’s disingenuous accounting … people who are being served are unable to accommodate the debt service of what they are being served with. Yet you are asking someone else to take it on.” He clarified that fire tax is a separate budget arena and to take money from elsewhere to supplement it, as was Collins’ point, is wrong. “We need new fire trucks, but the fire district needs to pay for the new fire trucks,” said Culpepper. “People who are getting the service need to pay for it.”

Another statistic acknowledged by the group was that 67% of citizens serviced by the fire department live outside of Town of Franklin corporate limits. Guffey again commented about the county’s responsibility to cover for a service that affects and benefits those outside the TOF. Another approach discussed was for the county to supply a tax increase or implement at least a one-time contribution. The discussion concluded with the Council recommending to the town manager and fire chief to resubmit the department budget to the county, in a manner that includes a request for funds in support of the vehicle purchase.

Jim Battigaglia, director of The Archer Company, presented a classification and compensation study for the Town of Franklin to the council. The primary focus for this effort was developing plans for public sector organizations. As it affects a compensation system, Archer integrated two sets of data – formal job evaluations and formal wage and salary surveys. Town employees completed comprehensive position questionnaires. Job evaluation factors were compiled using myriad criteria, which culminated in the salary survey. Numerous area towns (five) and counties (also five) participated in the survey. Approximately 30 benchmark jobs were selected for inclusion within the survey. Overall, the town’s current pay structure is 12% lower than the market average. The Town of Franklin pay plan is now established at 100% of the market data. 

Findings resulted in pay plan recommendations, including: 23 active pay grades, not all of which are included in current positions, established pay grade minimums of at least $15 per hour, and a 50% spread between pay grade minimums and pay grade maximum. As a result of the survey, all employee salaries increased to pay grade minimums. Town police pay plans are separate from other pay grades. 

Lastly, two announcements were made for upcoming events. The Law Enforcement Memorial program will take place Friday, May 19, at the Gazebo at 12 noon. Town offices will be closed May 29 in observation of Memorial Day and the next Town Council meeting will take place Monday, June 5, at 6 p.m.