Mayor remarks on successful term, while resident is angry about power bill

Published 11:11 am Wednesday, July 16, 2014

FRANKLIN—The past two years have been good for the city and council, said Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn in giving her organizational remarks for the 2014-15 year.

She was appreciative of the past two years and also of what they as a council and city have accomplished. Johnson-Ashburn is also looking forward to the next two.

During that term, they have been able to get the ball rolling with shared services with Southampton County, first, in combining the Community Development Office.

“We have been able to form a valuable relationship with Southampton County,” she said. “We will continue to nurture that relationship. And we will approach Isle of Wight again.”

Also with shared services, they have been moving forward on a study to see if the city and county could share wastewater services. The county recently built a new treatment plant with plenty of capacity remaining, while Franklin’s is near capacity. For Franklin to build a new treatment plant, it would create a heavy tax burden, Johnson-Ashburn said.

“We have been proactive in starting a process that will determine how to deal with the future of wastewater treatment plant,” she said.

She also said it was good to have a close relationship with Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc. under Director Amanda Jarratt. They have been successful in attracting business, including Love’s and Bojangles, which is a $7 million investment that will create 90 jobs.

The city has achieved a better bond rating due to fiscal policies set by the board. Many of the city’s departments have also been recognized during the time by state entities.

“Each of our employees perform a valuable service to citizens,” she said. “Each employee is truly appreciated.”

She also said that supporting the schools is important.

“We will continue to support the schools in their pursuit to provide an excellent education to our students,” she said. “We will look for ways to engage the community and create an atmosphere that focuses on the family unit.”

Ward 1’s Barry Cheatham said he felt like Franklin was heading in the right direction.

“I thank you for a very successful last two years,” Cheatham said. “I think bigger things are coming our way.”

Ward 3’s Greg McLemore, after hearing Isle of Wight resident Leon Sparrow come before the board again with his troubles in relation to Franklin Power and Lights, wants to see the board become more open to people during the next term.

“I just would like to say that I hope over the next two years, as we have somewhat attempted, that we will try to find ourselves more citizen friendly, especially during citizen’s time,” McLemore said. “I know some things we cannot address that the citizens ask us. But when it is something we can answer, I hope we will show citizens the courtesy to be responsive.”

Sparrow, as someone who collects social security as his only method of income, said that Franklin’s policy to have payments due by the 20th of the month discriminates against him and anyone who collects their checks on the fourth week of the month.

With the way light bills vary, it’s hard to know how much to save, Sparrow said. He also said that he would not pay the $15 late fee that went into effect in February. The late fee is in addition to the 1.5 percent penalty he already pays every month for paying his bill after the 20th.

“I believe it is wrong,” he said. “I believe council has fixed it so that it is wrong. Why have one penalty and one late charge when it is all the same thing? I am sure that I am not the only one that sees that. Maybe I am just the only one complaining about it.”

After citizen’s time and the organizational remarks, it was time to start taking care of some council business with the selection of vice mayor. Amongst other duties, the vice mayor runs the meetings in the mayor’s absence.

During the nominations, Ward 2 Councilman Benny Burgess nominated Cheatham, who served in that position during this past year. McLemore also nominated Ward 5’s Mary Hilliard.

“I decline,” Hilliard quickly said with a smile after being nominated.

In a vote of 5-1, Cheatham was reelected as vice mayor. McLemore was the lone nay, and Frank Rabil, Ward 6, had scheduled a family trip out of the country.

“I appreciate council’s vote of confidence to be vice-mayor again,” Cheatham said. “It is deeply appreciated.”

Council was also presented with packets for boards and commissions to serve on, and they would organize that upon Rabil’s return.

In other news, the council also unanimously approved (6-0) a 2014-15 budget amendment to appropriate $235,000 to Smart Beginnings. City Manager Randy Martin said the city is the organization’s fiscal agency, and that total is coming from several entities, including the city, Southampton County and grants.