Franklin Town Manager Summer Woodard passed out the first draft of the 2016-17 budget to the board of aldermen last week to give them time to look it over before the scheduled budget workshop on May 16. The public can also view the proposed budget online or pick up a copy at town hall.
While the town had to raise the tax rate last year to have a revenue-neutral budget, this year’s budget keeps the tax rate at 28 cents per $100 of value.
Woodard wrote in her budget message that the town is in good financial standing and revenues are expected to stay about the same in the coming fiscal year. She did, however, recommend increasing the rental rate for Memorial Park from $50 to $75 per day and giving a one-time 1-percent salary increase for all employees in lieu of a cost-of-living adjustment.
Woodard warned the board that growth in water and sewer revenue has been slow and stressed the importance of having enough revenue to maintain the current infrastructure while also setting aside funds to pay for future upgrades. In order to keep up with infrastructure needs, the budget proposes a 4-percent rate increase for water and sewer customers. The proposed increase would only affect the base and volume charges — not the tap, connection or other fees.
The town will continue to work on phase one of upgrades and expansion at the water treatment plant, but Woodard said funds were needed for additional capital projects. She recommended allocating $161,445 to upgrade the town’s 17-year-old software system, which will enable residents to pay their bills online with a credit or debit card.
Funding is also allocated for cleanup efforts on the undeveloped Whitmire property and repairs to the Fox Ridge Street culvert, which has become severely deteriorated.
Even though revenues appear to be steady, Woodard said local governments should always carefully prepare for unexpected losses of revenue because of decisions made at the state and federal level. For example, local governments can no longer collect a privilege license tax on businesses, which cost Franklin nearly $30,000 in last year’s budget.
“The continued involvement of the North Carolina General Assembly in local government affairs has certainly weighed heavy on local government budgets,” Woodard wrote.
The town was hit with a $5,000 unexpected bill this year in the form of an unfunded mandate. In February, the town staff was informed it was randomly selected by the North Carolina Treasurer’s office to comply with a federally mandated audit. Franklin was chosen for the Local Government Employees’ Retirement System audit along with 40 other local governments across the state.
Even though the town already contracts with an outside firm each year to have an audit done, the board approved a budget amendment last month to spend the extra $5,000 on the required audit. The board also voted to send a letter to Sen. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, to express their concerns about unexpected and unfunded mandate.
“While we don’t dispute the merits of the audit, we are very concerned about the short notice in which this audit was passed down to our town and other municipalities,” Mayor Bob Scott wrote in his letter to Davis. “As you are probably aware the town of Franklin operates on a very tight budget, and proper planning is instrumental in ensuring that our expenditures don’t exceed revenues on an annual basis.”
Davis responded by saying the LGERS audit was a federal mandate and not one from the state. Even though it’s out of the state government’s hands, Davis said he thought it was a good policy to have in place to ensure local governments are adequately funding their employees’ retirement plans.
“Considering this requirement occurs on a random basis, the Town of Franklin may consider building this expense into each year’s budget to avoid a potential shortfall,” Davis wrote. “… Considering you inaccurately directed blame for this expense to Representative (Roger) West and me, using the press as your venue, I expect to read a correction in the next edition following your regularly scheduled Town of Franklin Board of Alderman meeting.”
The town of Franklin Board of Aldermen will hold a budget workshop at 7 p.m. Monday, May 16, at town hall. Copies of the 2016-17 proposed budget are available at town hall or online at www.franklinnc.com. The public is invited to attend the budget workshop and offer feedback on the document before the board plans to vote on approving the budget next month.