City schools to get level funding from council

Published 12:41 pm Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Franklin City Public Schools will likely receive level funding from City Council for the 2018-2019 school year.

The council reached this decision following a 6-1 vote during a work session on Monday evening. According to City Manager R. Randy Martin, granting the school division anything beyond level funding would have necessitated a real estate tax increase of up to 5 cents. Raising taxes would have resulted in $170,000 in local revenue, which the division had planned to use to hire two new middle school teachers and three security guards — one for each school.

All of the council members expressed reluctance to support the tax increase and several, including Mayor Frank Rabil, questioned the return on investment the council had historically received when it had increased its local contribution to the schools in the past.

“We have given over $200,000 to the schools over the past three years,” Rabil said. “We have a debt service of almost $400,000 that takes care of the schools. We have over $200,000 in in-kind [contributions] with giving them office space in City Hall. We’re doing a lot.

“I don’t have a problem with giving them something when they earn it. If we can find some ways of giving them their funding without a tax increase, I’m all for it. I just want to see results. Just throwing dollars at them all the time, we’ve done that, and we haven’t gotten any ROI.”

Martin explained that $150,000 of the first $200,000 Rabil referenced had been built into the council’s local contribution to the school division since fiscal year 2015-2016. Then, at the beginning of the current fiscal year, the council further increased this allocation by another $50,000.

The $400,000 in school debt service, Martin said, was actually understated and is in fact going to be $730,084 as of July 1. This is an increase of $48,350 over last year’s school debt.

Martin said that the final $200,000 in in-kind contributions Rabil referenced covers not only the use of City Hall for the school division offices, but also service of school buses and other vehicles at the city’s garage, the cost of street and parking lot lighting at school facilities. The exact total for this figure as of July 1 will be $207,724.

The fact that the council decided to level-fund the schools for the coming fiscal year means the division will receive a total of $5,037,395 in local funding — the same figure that council funded them at the beginning of the current fiscal year. This figure includes in-kind contributions and all prior year increases that Rabil referenced.

Rabil also suggested that instead of raising taxes, the council look into reducing its tax potential given that many residents in Franklin were already going to be paying more from the city’s recent real estate value reassessment. Councilman Benny Burgess agreed that the city should keep its real estate tax revenue neutral.

“Every year that we’ve had a decrease in the assessment, we’ve had an increase in the tax rate,” Burgess said. “Now we have an increase in the assessment and we don’t want to give that back to the citizens, and to me that is wrong.”

The dissenting vote on whether or not to increase funding to the schools came from Councilman Greg McLemore, who, though like the other members of council was opposed to raising taxes, said that the city could not improve its economic outlook without first improving its schools.

Councilman Linwood Johnson said he agreed with McLemore that in order to bring business to the city, it needed to have top-notch schools, though he voted with the rest of council for the level funding. Johnson added that he believed more funding could have been made available to the schools had the council not voted last year to contribute $30,000 to the Cypress Cove Golf Course in Southampton County. The contribution was for a deal that allows residents of the city and county to use the club’s greens and golf carts for $25 per round. The Southampton County Board of Supervisors also voted last year to contribute $30,000 toward the deal.

“In a budget, there’s always some fat we can cut — all the departments, they still have fat in there,” Johnson said.

However, Martin disagreed that there was any “fat” remaining in the city’s department budgets that would not result in a reduction of some levels of service.

School Board Chairman Bob Holt made the following statement after learning of the level funding:

“The school budget request is carefully developed over several months. The final product delivered to the city council has already undergone much scrutiny and revision. It is an honest, straightforward and transparent representation of our needs. The council has the difficult task of balancing numerous requests from many sources and then compares those with available revenues. We know that the council does the best for the schools that they can. The school division will thank the council for their support, make the necessary adjustments to our plans and move forward.”

The action council took was only for the purpose of informing the division of its intent. The council expects to vote on a final budget, to include a final decision on school funding, on Monday, June 4. That budget will take effect on July 1.