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Franklin approves budget, loan money

FRANKLIN

Franklin’s City Council voted unanimously May 10 to adopt its proposed 2021-2022 fiscal year budget.

The general fund portion totals $26.2 million, an increase of $219,288 or 0.8% over the current year’s amended budget. Of this, Franklin City Public Schools will receive $4.8 million – the same local contribution it received from City Council at the start of the current fiscal year.

No pay increases for city staff are included, though the city is anticipating a 4.9% decrease in its health insurance premium, the savings from which will be shared between the city and its employees. The city plans to revisit the matter of a cost of living increase this fall after it reviews its revenues.

Several staff positions in the city’s police and public works departments remain frozen, but some in the city’s finance, public works, parks and recreation and fire departments, which were frozen during the current fiscal year, will be restored.

The city will also return to maintaining its own grounds maintenance crews, which accounts for the majority of new budgeted employees. The city also plans to add three new firefighters and emergency medical technicians to maintain its current levels of service within the city’s incorporated limits.

No tax or fee increases are included. But the coming fiscal year may be the city’s last for a while without an increase as it gears up to begin funding its portion of the Southampton County Courthouse renovation, which is set to break ground this September.

The same evening as the budget vote, the council voted 6-1 to borrow up to $6.5 million, the majority of which will go toward the renovation. This will include up to $2 million in refinanced existing debt, with the rest being new debt. The loan anticipates the courthouse project cost not exceeding $20 million, with the city’s share around $4.28 million.

Councilman Greg McLemore was the dissenting vote. Prior to the vote, the city held a public hearing on the borrowing plan, which drew no speakers.

Earlier this year, the city projected a 5-cent real estate tax increase would be needed to fund its share of the project, which its financial advisors from Davenport & Company say could be phased in starting with a 1-cent increase in fiscal year 2023, followed by another penny in 2024 and the remaining 3 cents in 2025. Currently, the real estate tax rate in Franklin is $1.03 per $100.

The portion of the debt beyond what is needed for the courthouse will fund several capital improvement projects, including repairs to the city’s public works garage and health department, adding bathrooms at Barrett’s Landing Park and reimbursing the city for the $430,000 it spent last month to buy the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority office at 100 Fourth Ave. for use by the city’s Social Services Department.