Proposal made to reduce DFA funding

Published 5:32 pm Friday, April 12, 2019


Following a joint work session between Franklin’s City Council and School Board on April 4, the city no longer plans to cut local funding of the school division by $50,000 in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-2020. Now the city plans to offer the division the same level of local funding it received at the beginning of the current fiscal year, and instead, cut its contribution to the Downtown Franklin Association — a 501c3 nonprofit organization dedicated to growing and supporting the city’s historic downtown — by $35,000.

The city has historically contributed only $55,000 to the DFA each year, plus whatever the city’s additional real estate tax of 24 cents on its downtown district properties brings in. Despite the proposed funding cut, the DFA will still receive the revenue from this special tax, which City Manager Amanda Jarratt said the DFA uses to administer the city’s Virginia Main Street program.

Jarratt had already informed the public at a previous council meeting several weeks ago, when she had been considering also cutting school funding, that a DFA budget cut of at least $20,000 was likely.

“We understand it’s a tight time for the city, there’s been some dramatic cuts across the board,” said DFA Executive Director Dan Howe. “We’re sympathetic to that.”

However, he added that the proposed cut in city funding would be “a large impact on us because we don’t have that big of a budget to start with.”

Howe estimated that the DFA receives about $50,000 each year from the additional real estate tax on the downtown district. This, plus the money it receives from the city’s budget, and the money it is able to raise by obtaining grant funding and sponsors for DFA events, goes toward operational costs, its Startup grant program for new businesses, and to its co-op advertising, facade and security grant programs for existing businesses.

“If we make a profit from events, we put that back into the system to improve the aesthetics of downtown,” Howe said. “If it wasn’t for the city funding, the property owners’ support and funding [through real estate taxes], the grants and the sponsorships, we couldn’t do what we do. It takes all of it.”

If less funding is available from one source “you go other routes,” Howe said, which could include having to charge for DFA events that have historically been free, such as its We Be Jammin’ summer concerts at the city’s Barrett’s Landing park.

“Anything’s on the board,” Howe said. “Fall Fest is the only thing that’s ever had an admission price. Pretty much every one of our other events have always been free, and we don’t want that [charging for events] to happen, but we have to keep all of our options open.”

During citizens’ time at Monday’s City Council meeting, several downtown business owners and DFA members urged Jarratt and the council members to reconsider the DFA budget cut.

“Without city funding, We Be Jammin’, Fall Fest, the Elf Parade, the Christmas Parade, are in severe jeopardy of not taking place,” said DFA President Cheryl Stepp.

Kathy Pippin of 207 S. Main St. said she was attracted to Franklin’s downtown area for her business for its history and foot traffic, but mentioned that her building was in need of an awning.

“The facade grant could help,” she said.

She also warned that cutting the DFA could hurt future business development downtown.

“I am generally adamantly opposed to tax increases, but if we’re in a budget crisis, I understand that,” said Franklin resident Bobby Tyler. “If you have to raise taxes to fund this organization, please do it.”

In addition to the DFA cut and level funding for the city’s school division, Jarratt’s proposed budget currently includes:

• A hiring freeze for three unfilled police officer positions, two E-911 dispatcher positions, three firefighter positions, one payroll specialist and one athletic specialist;

• Layoffs affecting the captain’s position in the Franklin Police Department, one airport employee, one city garage employee and one custodian.

• The elimination of payments to volunteer firefighters (each had received about $50 per shift previously) and the elimination of the city’s emergency building fund;

• Cutting the following: repairs to the Armory Field building, swimming lessons for children, the city attorney’s continuing education budget, and the purchase of equipment and network upgrades for the city’s Information Technology Department;

• No cost of living increases for city employees, and the renegotiation of one part-time E-911 contract.

All budget cuts, if approved, to include the layoffs, will take effect July 1.