Franklin City Council candidates address issues

Published 8:03 am Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Voters in the City of Franklin will be asked to choose a mayor on Tuesday, May 4.

Incumbent James P. Councill III, 65, is being challenged by planning commission member James M. Riddick Sr., 58, for a two-year term.

Councill is in insurance sales, investments, financial planning, estate creation and conservation. Riddick is retired from the Department of the Navy as a project manager/contracting officer.

The mayor’s job pays $10,437 a year.

Voters in Franklin’s Ward 3 will choose between City Council incumbent Rosa Mechell Lawrence, 50, who is the owner of Riddick’s Barber Shop, and Gregory McLemore, 51, who is employed by Paul D. Camp Community College’s Regional Workforce Development Center.

Ward 6 candidates for City Council are Charles Ray Smith, 63, a business consultant; Jamie Brown, 58, and emergency department technician at Sentara Obici Hospital; and Don Blythe. Incumbent Mark Fetherolf chose not to run.

Ward 5 Councilwoman Mary Hilliard is unopposed.

Council members are paid $7,896 a year.

Polls are open from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m..

Residents can vote at:

* Precinct 1 – Franklin YMCA – 300 Crescent Drive

* Precinct 2 – Hunterdale Fire Station – 201 Delaware Road

* Precinct 3 – American Legion Building – 935 Armory Drive

* Precinct 4 – Franklin Sportsman Association Bldg. – 1431 South St.

* Precinct 5 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Center – 683 Oak St.

* Precinct 6 – Emmanuel Episcopal Church – 400 N. High St.

The Tidewater News asked candidates in contested races questions; all but Blythe responded.

Q: What will be your top three priorities if elected?

COUNCILL: Economic development-mill repurposing, education of our littlest children through high school, and public safety

RIDDICK: Economic development, education and public safety

McLEMORE: Give the citizens of Ward 3 strong representation and a voice on Council.

Fight to lower utility bills and stop the wasteful spending for the citizens of Franklin.

Push for the concept of creating jobs with new ideas, instead of waiting for someone to come to our rescue

LAWRENCE: Crime, education and employment.

BROWN: Prudent fiscal management of city resources, increasing incentives for attracting small businesses throughout the entire city, not just in industrial park or enterprise zones, and affordable public education.

SMITH: As with many people I would like to bring new businesses to Franklin.

The education system is another thing I would work on to improve our overall system.

Try to stop the continual increase in taxes by expanding the business tax base.

Q: In what specific ways should Franklin and Southampton County cooperate more closely? Should Franklin consider reverting from independent city to town status? Why or why not?

COUNCILL: Continue to work closely with economic development, consider sharing services such as social services and schools as well as others. Reversion may well be needed to be revisited.

We did this 10 years ago and decided not to pursue it. It is a long difficult process and requires time and manpower. However in this economic and political climate, we owe our citizens the duty of evaluating any option that will offer better and more economic methods of operation and delivery of services. Looking at reversion again may well have merit.

RIDDICK: We have a tendency to focus on the negative. We need to focus on the things that bring us together. We share a great number of services: churches, health care, jobs. Whether we revert to a town status will be determined by the people. I’ve seen decals on vehicles that state, “You can’t drown a good town;” with that type of an attitude here is another noteworthy quote that I like to add “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.”

We the citizens of Franklin/Southampton are Western Tidewater and we need to recognize our strengths and realize that if we don’t come together collectively there’s no hope.

McLEMORE: Anyway possible but, to be more specific I would have to say economic growth, with jobs and educational training and support.

In my opinion, merging would be the death of the City of Franklin, to do that now would be to give in to the myth that “the loss of IP would kill Franklin.” I’m much more optimistic than that for our small town.

I see great potential for our city to grow and prosper, if we break out of the current mentality that this city government operates with and, embrace the reality that the citizens come first before the city.

Until that day comes we will continue to be slaves to the city instead of independent citizens with rights to limited taxation and fees. IPclosing can’t kill Franklin, only our City Council can do that.

LAWRENCE: I would like to see Franklin and Southampton County cooperate closely in a market study for trash disposal. Possibly some remote rural area in Southampton County that can be used for a landfill and recycle center to save money for Franklin and Southampton County while creating jobs for the area.

SMITH: I do not believe we need to change our city status but would want to have more information on the pros and cons before making such an important decision.

Q: Evaluate the effectiveness of Franklin-Southampton Economic Development during its first five years of operation. Do you support continued city funding of its operations, and, if so, at what level?

COUNCILL: In the most difficult economic time in our recent history, the economic development effort has not born a lot of fruit. With only a few exceptions the region is flat with success.

However much work has been done on our behalf. Especially in this time of mill repurposing and our regional opportunity to remake ourselves we need as never before strong economic development efforts on our behalf. We must continue this cooperative effort on behalf of our citizens, our businesses and our new economy.

For the $150,000 we contribute to this joint effort, we get much more than we could get for that amount of money on our own. Now is the time to step up, not drop back. Our future is at stake.

RIDDICK: In support of economic development for Franklin and Southampton County, we have to change the way we’re doing business. We need to look at developing ideas that will attract companies and new people to Franklin and Southampton County.

We need to create incentives that will attract new citizens. We have to convince the realtors to show houses in Franklin. We need to look at all the land we have in Franklin for development, for example, Pretlow Industrial Park. We need to be more user friendly and open minded. A dramatic change is on the way whether we want it or not. If we are going to be successful and competitive we have to embrace change.

McLEMORE: Passing with a D-, very limited effect for the cost. I would not support continued city funding without specific results guaranteed.

LAWRENCE: I find sharing resources is good.

The Franklin-Southampton Economic Development has operated very effectively during the past five years. Yes I support the city in continuing funding of its operation but feel the evaluation should be monitored more closely.

BROWN: It seems that, for the amount of funds expended, that economic development through Franklin-Southampton Economic Development in the city has not been very successful.

I do favor continued efforts in creating economic opportunities in the city, but not at the level currently expended.

In light of the current economic climate, and with limited resources available, I would favor reducing financial contributions of the local effort by half.

It has been said that with a budget of approximately $750,000 in total from city, county and charities, that the department has been prudent with its budget by not spending nearly as much as has been available.

While it is nice to save money, and Lord knows everyone needs to do that if possible, perhaps if the funds had been prudently expended, maybe there would have been major successes in local economic development issues.

SMITH: I don’t see the results that we should have made in the last five years but believe we will need the Franklin Southampton Economic Development operation now more than ever but they should be held accountable for there results.

Q: Evaluate the effectiveness of Franklin Power & Light. What specific reforms, if any, of the city-owned electric utility would you support?

COUNCILL: Great department. Well run with great employees. The best service, reliable, lower rates than our neighbors and a much needed profit center that contributes $1.5 million to our general fund thus reducing by $.25 per $100 of property value the real estate taxes we would then have to pay.

Our department is an excellent part of our city and does not need to be tinkered with. Mr. Stoneham and employees do an outstanding job.

RIDDICK: Franklin Power & Light has constantly come under attack. I have faith in the integrity of our city-owned electric utility. Some of the observations I’ve made personally, not all inclusive:

* Lots of houses were built after World War II. We need to look at these houses.

* Evaluate the insulation in attics and floors.

* Windows whether they’re energy efficient, upgrade wiring.

* Find grants to make energy efficient upgrade through STOP programs that are strictly geared toward senior citizens.

McLEMORE: Their services are effective keeping our lights on. I would support reforms that reduce electric bills along with all utilities charges and unjust fees.

LAWRENCE: Franklin Power & Light under the leadership of Mr. Stoneham has performed very favorably for the City of Franklin. Although we did receive an increase in electric rates, the City of Franklin pays the lowest KWH rate in the surrounding area.

I would like to echo Mayor Councill’s advice to the citizens of Ward 3. If you feel you are being billed too highly for utilities, request a free Utility Usage Audit provided by the City Electric Power & Light Department. Adding to that 70 to 80 percent of the homes in Ward 3 were built before 1960, making them 50-plus years old.

Homeowners may need to look into energy saving options such as adding insulation, weather stripping, installing energy saving thermostats & light bulbs – replacing old windows (check Homes for Habitat for discounted materials). President Obama has approved stimulus money and tax incentives to offset some of these expenses to homeowners and Landlords.

BROWN: I think Franklin Power and Light is a good organization that has served the citizens of Franklin well. I know that when a power outage exists, crews are on the scene quickly in restoring electric service.

As far as reforms within the department, if elected I would encourage the city to ensure that the rates for commercial and residential customers be the same throughout the city, providing that the equipment needed to provide the service is the same. I would recommend that for every department.

SMITH: The Franklin Power and Light department is an asset to our community. We are lucky to have the ability to respond to our needs as timely as they do. I believe the way we handle the financial side of the operation needs to be evaluated.

Q: Police Chief Phil Hardison has in recent years requested 10 additional police officers to help combat drug and gang crimes. Would you support an increase in the property tax rate to fund those additional officers and equipment? Why or why not?

COUNCILL: It is very difficult to speak to that as one item in a very difficult budget year. We will have to look at the city and the overall budget collectively first. So I must reserve judgment on this for the moment. Sure it would be great to add officers if there is money. But we have to have the money. Assessments are down and revenue will be affected, so we must be prudent in our considerations.

RIDDICK: Raising taxes to hire additional police officers would be the last resort. We the citizens need to come together to deal with the issue. For example, as long as there are people buying drugs there will be people selling drugs. Safety of our citizens is most important as well as the safety of those enforcing the laws. Neighborhood watch should be just that. Neighbors looking out for each other, which I think will help Chief Hardison’s force immensely. Stop harboring and abetting criminal activity in our communities.

McLEMORE: No because, only under city wide emergency will I ever support increasing any tax or fee on the citizens as long as there are alternatives

LAWRENCE: Currently the Treasurer is putting into place a policy to collect delinquent property taxes, roughly totaling $616,431.00. Also a schedule to allow property tax to be paid in installments is being addressed. If these two efforts prove to be successful, I hope there won’t be a need to increase property taxes and Chief Hardison will be able to increase his budget. Would I vote for an increase – I will vote favorably for the citizens of Ward 3 as their Representative.

BROWN: I have always been a strong supporter of local law enforcement efforts. And 10 additional police officers may make a difference in combating drug and gang activities. The question of raising the city’s tax rate to pay for the 10 officers I think is asking too much of the tax-paying citizens. In recent years, each penny increase in the real estate tax rate brings in about $57,000 to the city’s treasury. The cost of a police officer to start is more than $35,000 in salary, not including the cost of benefits, nor additional costs for vehicles, uniforms, training, weapons, etc. – things a good officer should have. I think that to use a tax increase just for 10 officers would cost tax payers more than 10 cents per hundred dollars on the tax rate, something I don’t think the majority of tax payers are willing to pay for at this time.

SMITH: It’s my understanding we have been understaffed in the police department for over two years with the existing budget. We should not increase the budget until we fill the jobs we have the budget for already.