Council delays decision on derelict properties

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Franklin’s City Council will hold off taking any action on its proposed derelict property ordinance pending the outcome of a work session scheduled for January, which will include time for comments from residents. The council voted to table the matter on Monday after several members said they had received calls from people concerned about an alleged lack of input from property owners.

City Manager R. Randy Martin explained the work session will be somewhat less formal than a public hearing, and as such, the city will not have to pay advertising costs, as it would with a public hearing. It is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 8, at 6 p.m., exactly one hour prior to the council’s next regular scheduled meeting. Though the vote to postpone taking action that evening was unanimous, several council members expressed their disappointment with the delay.

“I didn’t get any phone calls and I’m disappointed that the folks with questions didn’t come in tonight,” said Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham. “We don’t need to be dragging our feet on it [the ordinance] much longer.”

“We’ve been talking about this for three to four months,” Councilman Benny Burgess agreed. “Now all of a sudden we get this rash of phone calls.”

Mayor Frank Rabil said most of the calls he had received on the matter had come from residents in favor of the ordinance, but he didn’t see a problem with getting more input.

“I think these people know how to sign up for citizens’ time,” he said.

The only person who signed up that evening to speak about the proposed ordinance was Jim Hart, who said that he felt some of the language of the ordinance was subjective.

Other speakers were Dr. Sharon Sheffield of the Western Tidewater Free Clinic, who thanked the council for their support of the nonprofit over its 10 years of operating, Councilman Greg McLemore, speaking as a private citizen, who read a letter from Congressman Bobby Scott (D-3rd) in support of a recent wreath-laying ceremony honoring the unknown slaves of Franklin and Southampton County, and Thomas Councill, who again spoke in support of bringing prayer back to council meetings.

In other business, the council recognized Charles “Jeff” Turner for his 17 years of service as the riverkeeper for the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers. They also recognized Bob Petty in memoriam for his service on the city’s industrial development authority and board of equalization.

The city also received a clean opinion from auditors with Creedle Jones on the bookkeeping for fiscal year 2016-2017, which ended on June 30 of this year. The city finished out the year with a surplus of $5,055,159 in its unassigned fund balance for its general fund. Franklin City Public Schools finished with a combined fund balance of $70,746, having started the year with a deficit of over $125,000. Auditors identified no material weaknesses with internal controls in either the city’s or school division’s accounting.

The council also wrote off $16,165.53 in delinquent personal property taxes from 2011 after city treasurer Dinah Babb informed them that the state’s statute of limitations for collections had expired, and discharged an unpaid $264 business license fee from a business closed by police in 2011 that had become likewise uncollectible.

They also passed budget amendment 2018-08, which appropriates an additional $224,606 to Franklin City Public Schools from grants the school division recently received.

Babb also announced that the city will hold a tax sale of nine properties in the spring, citing that the properties in question were several years delinquent in real estate taxes and whose owners had made no effort over the delinquent years to work out an arrangement with her for repayment.

“My goal is not to take their property and sell it, it’s to get what’s owed to the city and let them keep their property,” Babb said, adding that she has in the past been able to take properties off the sale list as late as the morning of a sale if its owners come in and make arrangements to pay.

She is also working to obtain $16,382.22 in delinquent meals taxes from restaurants, and has put each on a payment plan so all can afford to continue operating.

The final action the council took before going into closed session was to table indefinitely a proposed revision to its citizen recognition policy.