Mayor discusses $1M loss, alliances

Published 10:34 am Friday, April 13, 2012

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of interviews with Franklin’s three mayoral candidates in the May 1 election. Click here to download the full audio interview.

FRANKLIN—Mayor Jim Councill discussed a $1 million loss in the city Power and Light Department, apparent alliances among council members, charter amendments, flood control and the school district during an interview with The Tidewater News.

Councill is challenged by Councilman Greg McLemore and Councilwoman Raystine Johnson in the May 1 election.

Councill blamed a $1 million depletion of the city electric department’s reserve fund on a 14 percent rate increase in August by Dominion Virginia Power, which was not entirely passed on to city customers. Franklin buys wholesale power from Dominion though the Virginia Municipal Electric Association.

Councill said the city could raise rates and still be below what Dominion charges customers in other localities.

“We’re still cheaper than Dominion and that’s our goal,” he said. “Our goal has always been to buy it low, sell it at less than our neighbors and still provide a profit for the city.”

Council said he still supports transferring profits from the electric fund to the city’s general fund — some $1.5 million annually.

“For 60-some-odd years it has been a good thing for the city,” Councill said.

Councill acknowledged informal alliances among City Council members, but said he isn’t a member of any.

“It’s quite the contrary,” he said. “I think there are alliances all around me.”

He believes the mayor’s responsibility is to pull council members together and noted that alliances on council aren’t necessarily bad.

Councill called the General Assembly’s refusal to approve changing the city’s charter, which council members approved by a 5-2 vote, unprecedented.

“There was an awful lot of political and racial discussion about this,” he said.

Councill believes that McLemore and Councilman Don Blythe, who voted against the changes, acted inappropriately by lobbying against the amendments in Richmond.

Councill said he supports sending the amendments back to the General Assembly, but favors letting the voters decide through a referendum.

“I don’t know what everyone feels, but I think several council members feel similarly to this,” he said.

The owner of Councill Financial Concepts, he said the city in partnership with a coalition of communities in the Chowan River Basin has been working on securing money for better flood forecasting since 2008. The council on Monday agreed to pay $6,900 to install state and federally funded flow gauges down river in six different locations.

Councill said he would like to see regional funding for career coaches at high schools in Franklin and Southampton and Isle of Wight counties. A career counselor would spend a day at each of the high schools and a fifth day talking to local industry about job prospects in the area.

He also supports a partnership between the city and Southampton County in the use of the alternative school in Hunterdale to help improve the graduation rate.