Council OKs tax exemption for disabled veterans

Published 10:51 am Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Franklin’s City Council voted unanimously during its Monday meeting to pass an ordinance exempting some disabled veterans from personal property taxes on a single motor vehicle. The ordinance allows veterans who are 100 percent disabled from a service-connected disability as certified by the Department of Veterans Services to qualify for the exemption.

The council also voted 6-1 to amend its agreement with the Virginia Department of Military Affairs regarding the use of the National Guard armory on Armory Drive. The new agreement cedes all responsibility for the facility’s maintenance and utilities to the department and ends its availability for rent to the public when not in use for military purposes.

The VDMA requested these changes via a letter from Army Col. Charlton T. Dunn, assistant chief of staff to the National Guard’s construction and facilities management office, to City Manager R. Randy Martin dated March 1. The letter cites the need for greater physical security at all National Guard readiness centers throughout the state given the current social environment, as well as a previously unrecognized lead dust problem in the Armory Drive facility.

Ward Three Councilman Greg McLemore was the dissenting vote, arguing that he was not sure if the costs the city would save in no longer providing utilities or maintenance to the facility would be worth the city losing access to a facility of that size. But Mayor Frank Rabil countered that he felt the city did not really have a choice in the matter, given that the facility is owned by the National Guard, not the City.

City Attorney H. Taylor Williams IV agreed with Rabil, saying, “We did not seek this out; we were contacted and informed that this resolution would be coming, and for the moment [the armory] is going to be mothballed. There’s the possibility it will be repaired in the future, but at this point they do not want the public to be involved in the building. It is their building, they have the right to say that, and it does get us out of the financial burden on the city.”

Williams added that the city will retain the use of the armory’s parking lot during events held at the adjacent Armory Field. The new agreement will take effect July 1 of this year. The original agreement between the department and the City, according to Williams, came about in 1952 when Armory Drive was undeveloped and the National Guard needed to incentivize the city to pave the road and extend electric, water and sewer service to the then-new facility.

“The status of the building has changed, the world has changed, and we have not been able to use it for the past two years but we’re still paying for routine maintenance and all the utilities,” he said.

The council also voted to unanimously to pass a budget amendment transferring $42,026 from the city’s contingency fund to cover repairs to its Armory Park swimming pool and police/courts building.

Of that funding, $11,126 will go to the city’s Parks and Recreation budget to cover most of the expense of repairs to the swimming pool to eliminate safety concerns, and $30,900 will go to the city’s Public Works – Building Maintenance budget to cover most of the cost of replacing the police/courts building’s HVAC units, which are inoperable. The remaining funds needed will come from the departments’ existing budgets.

The council again scheduled a work session one hour prior to the start of its regular meeting, during which several nonprofit agencies requested the council continue to fund their programs for the upcoming fiscal year.

Petitioners included Dan Howe, executive director of the Downtown Franklin Association, Loraine Green-Whitehead of Smart Beginnings of Western Tidewater, W. Ross Boone of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, Michael Stoltz of the Virginia Legal Aid Society, and Reggie Carter of the Boys and Girls Club of Southeast Virginia.

Howe requested the council give the DFA $75,000 to help them run their Startup Downtown Franklin program for a second year and to start a Franklin Farmer’s Market. Green-Whitehead requested $15,000 for Smart Beginnings’ early intervention program for impoverished children.

Boone requested $34,500 to expend the clinic’s available services in Franklin. Stoltz requested $4,554 for providing civil legal services to low-income residents of Franklin and partnering with the Western Tidewater Free Clinic to help Franklin residents obtain public benefits like Medicaid. Carter requested $7,500 for Project Learn – a program to promote academic success, good character and healthy lifestyles for children.

The council took each request under advisement, and Councilman McLemore asked several of the petitioners how much of their budget went to payroll for staff rather than programs to benefit the citizens of Franklin.

Boone explained the clinic’s high payroll costs, which he estimated to be approximately 72-80 percent of their total budget, as being necessary to bring in physicians, nurses and other highly-trained employees.

“You cannot have a medical clinic and not have people who are highly trained,” he said. “Many of our physicians work at minimal cost so no patient is denied the opportunity to see the very best… Do you know what it costs to bring in a medical doctor at a minimum? We also have full-time nurses and part-time nurses on staff and we have 18 employees so when you add up the benefits that go along with it, payroll costs are high.”

The council also passed a resolution recognizing Horace L. Pierce Jr., who recently retired from the city’s voter registration and elections office after beginning as an officer of election in 1989 and retiring Jan. 31 this year as electoral board chairman.

The council concluded by going into closed session to discuss appointments, salaries and resignations of city employees.