Franklin has ways to increase its revenue, should take initiative

Published 11:03 pm Tuesday, October 28, 2008

With a new tax rate set, and an austere budget as our road map through troubled times, I believe that the taxpaying citizens should unite and demand that the Franklin City Council look at ways to increase our community’s revenue.

With national and state funding cuts, and losses from sales taxes, localities need to look at every expense and way to obtain income possible. It is clear that a severe shortfall in sales taxes, as well as national and state funding will result in a loss of services for our city.

I propose that the city take a hard look at increasing local revenue by taxing Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority land. As it now stands the FRHA does not pay real estate taxes because its land is tax exempt, however it does pay a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) fee.

At the Monday City Council meeting, city officials admitted that they didn’t know the value of the PILOT fee. From Mayor Jim Councill to the Vice Mayor and FRHA Commissioner Raystine Johnson to Executive Director Sheryl Frazier, no city official could tell the citizens details such as the amount, rate, terms, percentage of the budget revenue, and my review of the budget didn’t reveal an amount or even payment, so I’m compelled to conclude that the fee is inconsequential to the city’s income.

Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s portfolio of tax-exempt land has a total assessment value of $16,942,100.

If the city taxed this land, we could collect $130,454.17 in additional tax revenue.

If the FRHA refused to pay real estate taxes, we could shift it from tax exempt “project-based” public housing to low-income, affordable housing for acquisition at market-rate, getting the same result.

The city already has an affordable home program, an empty housing complex and job training and life skills programs. Let’s tie all this together and sell each Suburban Gardens unit to a low-income family for home ownership.

Here’s an example of a way to do it. Let’s say the market value of a unit is $80,000. The housing authority will finance the sale of the unit through the home program.

If the low-income family is unable to pay $80,000, the city makes a deal with them. If you take our parenting training we will drop our price $5,000. If your children make a B average in school, and get reasonable SOL scores, we will drop our price $5,000 more. If you volunteer with the school system, recreation department, public works, fire department and/or at the hospital, we will drop our price another $5,000. And if you still don’t qualify, we will rent-to-own the property to you, as long as you follow all of our rules.

If a tenant successfully executes this contract, their children will be an asset to the community. The adults will have work experience, and will be able to find and keep a job. The schools will improve and the city will get tax revenue for the land and unit.

Everybody wins, which is no small feat. Just think about it. Instead of cutting services, we could prevent crime, fund recreation and improve our whole community. I think the city should consider this proposal and test it out with Suburban Gardens as a trial.

We should also look at Pretlow. Pretlow Gardens, Oak Street, has an assessment value of $1,043,000, and Pretlow Farm has an assessment value of $3,929,600 for a total value of $4,972,600. If we sell Pretlow to a developer, the city could take its $5 million, fully fund reserves, hire more police, fund recreation and have plenty left over to build new schools. If we taxed FRHA and sold Pretlow, we would be even better off.

Thomas Councill Jr. is a Southside resident and landowner. His e-mail address is