Hearing focuses on budget

Published 9:52 am Friday, June 14, 2013

FRANKLIN—Franklin City Council conducted a public hearing Monday night on the proposed 2013-2014 fiscal year budget.

After City Manager Randy Martin gave a brief overview of the budget, there were several comments about schools, the library and electric rates.

The $54 million proposed budget calls for no tax increase and a two percent cost of living adjustment for city employees.

Three different citizens came forward to ask council to fully fund the library. Lane Meredith said she was appointed to serve on the library’s board. “It is a remarkable library and we are fortunate to have it in Franklin. Linda Johnson, a library volunteer, agreed saying, “I see so many good things the library does.”

And frequent library user Carol Butler said she and her two sons take advantage of the library all the time and that with last year’s cuts in operating hours, she hoped to see it fully funded.

Edna King, representing the Franklin City School Board spoke on behalf of the schools, adding that it had been a pleasure to work with the council during the budget process.

She said most federal and state appropriations to the school came in lower than anticipated and the staff has to go back and make changes. She pointed out that the schools had been most frugal and that they would probably have to look at adjusting staff.

“Our employees have not had a raise in three years. It is impossible to not make it a priority,” she stressed.

As reported in Wednesday’s edition of The Tidewater News, Dr. Linwood Johnson, spokesman for the Concerned Citizens Against High Utility Bills also addressed the council about the budget’s electric fund. He asked council to consider lowering the profit margin, saying Franklin’s is 88 percent. He stated that if money (from the electric fund) is going to the General Fund, it should be circulated back to the citizens, which would encourage businesses to come to the area.

During council discussion, Councilman Benny Burgess, (Ward 2) said if he calculated correctly, “Our gross profit on the electric fund before operating expenses is about $1.6 million. I don’t know where the 88 percent profit (Johnson spoke about) is coming from.”

Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham agreed saying, “I tried as well and couldn’t get close.”

Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn then asked the city manager to come back with that number at the next meeting.

Burgess further explained electric rate increases. “We had a 22 percent increase (from Dominion) and only have passed 17 percent of that on. We’ve eaten five percent of the increases. The cash (reserve) has decreased to a severe point. We don’t have the reserve to buy equipment to put us on line — to get us back up and running — we have to balance all of that out to make sure we cover the system.”

Cheatham added, “Two years ago we were taking $2.5 million from the electric fund. It has been greatly reduced.”

Mayor Johnson-Ashburn said that a plan or further reductions would be discussed. She further pointed out that money in the general fund takes care of police, emergency services and school services and that if money from electric fund is not moved over to the general fund annually, real estate taxes would increase by as much as 24 cents per $100 valuation.

Martin said it was a “misnomer to use the word profit in regard to utilities.” He explained with a city owned electric company, money transferred into reserves is a payment in lieu of taxes. “The citizens are shareholders.”

Discussion about the schools included talking about the carry over funds that are being given back to the schools in the upcoming budget, but that those funds are a one-time amount. Both Councilwoman Mona Murphy and Mary Hilliard praised School Superintendent Dr. Bell and the school board for all of their contributions. Mayor Johnson-Ashburn said she understood that teacher’s pay needed addressing.

And finally, Martin said the library would receive the full appropriations asked for.