Welcome to the decline

Published 9:52 am Friday, June 5, 2015

If the Franklin City Council opens a public hearing on what had been advertised as a 9-cent tax increase and no one is there to talk about it, does it make a sound?

No, it doesn’t. Unless you count Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashburn repeatedly calling for someone to come forward, despite the room being filled with nothing but city staff, this reporter and Franklin’s Ruth Camp Campbell Memorial Library Branch Manager.

Well, there was one other — the advocate for a non-profit out of Norfolk who hadn’t been aware that the city already had its work session for agencies — and she was allowed to speak as a courtesy.

Other than that, the room was quiet in between the typing of my keyboard and the mayor’s pleas for speakers. That is until the city closed the properly advertised public session on a proposed 9-cent increase. The only sound that could be heard from those who complained on The Tidewater News’ comment section or who voted for no tax increase on the poll was the barely audible disappointment coming from everyone in the room, looking around with blank stares for someone who had something to say.

For all the interest from the public, Franklin ought to go ahead and approve that 9-cent increase on Monday. While we are at it, let’s just go ahead and make it 10 cents, or 50 cents, even. Hell, people, why don’t you just give them your whole wallet?

Thankfully, it isn’t likely to go down that way. Some members of city council were so dismayed to propose a budget featuring a 9-cent increase, which still included massive cuts or level funding for most departments, that they had scheduled an extra work session. I say some members because not everyone was there. Greg McLemore, I’m looking at you.

The rest of them figured out a way to propose a 3-cent increase, and they will likely approve it on Monday. Certainly, the smaller increase will still affect pocketbooks of homeowners — an average of $45.90 extra. It beats the more than $130 extra that was being proposed, and the lowered rate still helps the schools get some additional base funding.

The latter would have been the proposal, with no real additional services or substantial improvements included, had council taken the apathetic lead from the rest of the citizenry.

Because of that apathy, it’s not too hard to envision a scenario where the tax rate exponentially increases to support the nanny-state services in the city.

The economy is pretty stagnant, business-wise. Investments are made here, and jobs are being added, but it’s not keeping up with much of Virginia, or even getting near what Franklin was in the past. From the citizenry, the main tax base is aging, and many are already retired.

The subsidized housing certainly helps keep the population numbers from completely spiraling down the drain, but it’s not adding much back to the community in terms of taxes, talent or through involvement that gives back in other ways, such as volunteerism.

Yet the schools and other departments, as well as the private non-profit social service agencies, keep asking for more money.

While the hands continue to reach into the pot, the stack of money below what they are taking from is shrinking. The taxable base is becoming smaller as the haves die off and small businesses close their doors.

And what are we going to do about it?

Absolutely nothing. Let’s give the city the pin number to our bank accounts and go back to sleep. We all seem pretty comfortable imagining that someone else is going to do something about the forces destroying this community.

Sweet dreams, Franklin.

Cain Madden is the managing editor of The Tidewater News. He can be reached at 562-3187 or cain.madden@tidewaternews.com.