Franklin budget, improvement plan approved; education fund withheld

Published 5:16 pm Friday, July 1, 2016

Franklin City Council has approved the Fiscal Year 2016-2017 Operating Budgeting that will go into effect today. Council has also approved all items in the capital improvement plan except for the education fund, which wasn’t approved as half of council felt they should withhold funds until an appropriate response had been given by the school board regarding the internal control issues found in the city’s audit.

The biggest change from the proposed budget to the actual one is that it had been recommended that there be a real estate tax increase, but council voted against it.

When it came time for council to vote on the CIP, they agreed on all items except for education. A CIP is a guide for the effective and efficient provision of the public facilities, infrastructure and improvements in roads, major maintenance requirements and acquisition of property and equipment.

“For this CIP, the primary revenue sources are: proceeds from general obligations bonds, general fund reserves, federal and state government grants and proceeds from short-term lease financing agreements,” the plan states.

The approved funds in the CIP were the general fund, solid waste, water and sewer and airport. Items that will be covered under these funds are the new voting machines, vehicle replacement for fire and rescue, e911 communication system, street equipment, Fairview Drive improvement project and a few other lined items.

The school board had requested that it receive $480,000 from the school carryover fund to cover bus acquisition, transportation vehicles, a storage facility and the engineering costs associated with a major classroom addition at S.P. Morton Elementary School; however, a majority vote was not met on whether to give them the funds or not.

Councilman Benny Burgess made a motion to approve the capital improvement plan withholding the education CIP until they receive an appropriate response regarding last year’s audit findings.

The city’s audit found several internal controls issues with the school board and when the Virginia Department of Education asked them to respond on the matter, school board chair Edna King sent a letter refuting each of the findings.

“Just to reiterate … it was the city’s audit. It is a fairly serious matter. It can be addressed fairly easily,” Burgess continued. “It needs to be addressed and their response … was in denial of the violation. The school board, in my mind, has not addressed the internal control violations. I think its serious enough we need to make a statement. We want these things addressed because it can have violations to the city in the future.”

Councilman Barry Cheatham added, “I would like to agree with Councilman Burgess, as well as add that … the schools assets are the city’s assets and by not having proper internal controls, a problem can be created. It is a serious matter.”

Although Councilwoman Mary Hilliard and Mona Murphy agreed that it was a serious concern and the school board hadn’t provided an appropriate response, they felt council should still approve the education fund in the CIP.

“As an ex school board member and current city council member, I just can’t do that,” Murphy said. “I know it’s not in the operating fund, but, as I sit here and continue to ponder this, the money is going to be used one way or another, you don’t know if they will have something that really happens. What would we do if we have something that really happens until we get an appropriate response?”

Mayor elect Frank Rabil added, “I do want to point out that in no way is this impacting the operating fund for the schools. They are still getting the allocated amount that they asked for from a budget stand point.”

When it came time to vote, Mayor Raystine Johnson-Ashubrn, Murphy and Hilliard all voted to approve the education funding, however, Burgess, Cheatham and Rabil all voted against it. With councilman Greg McLemore being absent, no majority vote was determined.

The new council will continue to discuss this item at their next meeting until an agreement can be with the school board.