“It is estimated that at least 80 percent of sales tax revenue is derived from non-essential goods. The North Carolina League of Municipalities is anticipating that municipalities and counties could see at least a 25 percent reduction in sales tax revenues for fiscal year 2020-21,” Town Manager Summer Woodard recently told the town council. “Water and sewer revenues will also be affected due to COVID-19 and North Carolina Executive Order 124, which prohibits public utilities from disconnecting residential utilities due to non-payment.”
The town is currently seeing a 40 percent decline in monthly utility revenue because of that state order, and Woodard ventured to guess some of those accounts may never get caught up in the next year. Anticipating more unexpected revenue loss and unexpected expenditures, Woodard said she budgeted $30,000 in contingency.
Despite the uncertainties, Woodard said Franklin continues to operate within a sound financial position with a healthy fund balance that represents 78 percent of its total budget of about $9.2 million. Woodard’s proposed budget does include appropriating $272,408 from fund balance into the general fund to have a balanced budget while holding the property tax rate steady at 32 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Town employees will not be receiving a cost-of-living raise this year but will potentially receive merit increases based on their annual performance review. The merit raise will be a one-time bonus given to employees in December.
The town will be absorbing a 6 percent increase to its health insurance costs and will also still be investing in several capital improvement projects. Woodard said $40,000 was budgeted to replace 200 water meters; $500,000 budgeted to replace the sewer line on Sloan Street and Rolling Hills Drive; and another $500,000 to replace the sewer line on Crane Circle and Lakeside Drive.
“Those two projects are crucial with the development of a new hospital and Scenic Ridge,” she said.
It will cost the town $43,000 to replace two of the town’s computer servers at the police department and town hall and $6,200 to install a sliding safety glass barrier at the front reception window at town hall.
Another project that will get funded after several years of discussion is renovations to the gazebo on the town square. Woodard said she budgeted $8,000 for new boards, a new paint job and a new roof. The improvements will not alter the look of the gazebo. About $10,000 has been allocated to replace the town’s aging and outdated wayfinding signs around downtown.
With $450,000 allocated from state Powell Bill funds, the town has prioritized several major sidewalk projects, including 615 feet on Philips Street (Panther Drive to Wayah Street); 560 feet on West Palmer Street (Commerce Street to West Main Street); 300 feet on East Palmer Street (South Patton Avenue to East Main Street); 610 feet on First Street (Highlands Road to Van Raalte Street) and 930 feet on First Street (Old Cat Creek Road to Cherry Street).
Several departments are in need of new vehicles. Woodard has budgeted $70,000 for the police department to replace two patrol vehicles that have over 100,000 miles; $25,000 to replace a truck at the water treatment plant; $49,000 to replace a dump truck for sanitation and $265,000 to purchase a new street sweeper.
While it’s an expensive purchase, Woodard said it’s much needed as the current sweeper is a 2008 model that was costing between $10,000 and $20,000 a year in maintenance costs. Surplusing the old one could recoup $20,0000 to $30,000 toward purchasing a new one and the town could also put some of its Powell Bill funds toward the purchase.
Town water and sewer customers could also see an increase to their bills as Woodard is proposing a 3 percent rate increase to only base rates and volume charges. It won’t apply to tap fees or other services.
A public hearing regarding the 2020-21 budget will be held at 6:10 p.m. June 1 at town hall. Town Council meetings are also being livestreamed during the pandemic. To see the complete proposed budget, visit www.franklinnc.com/budget-franklin-nc-2020-2021.html.