Hearing held on proposed $81.74M Franklin budget

Published 6:00 pm Friday, May 17, 2024

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The Franklin City Council held a public hearing Monday evening, May 13, in reference to the proposed $81.74 million fiscal year 2024-25 city budget that features no increases to rates for real estate tax, personal property tax or utilities.

Interim Franklin City Manager Darlene Burcham said maintaining the current rates and fees has been a challenge in developing the budget.

“The budget overall, for all funds in total, represents about a 4.1% increase (from FY 2023-24), and in order to do that, we had to, in fact in some instances, utilize fund balance in order to balance this budget,” she said. 

The FY 2023-24 budget, as adopted, totaled $78,515,907, and the proposed FY 2024-25 budget totals $81,744,600.

As advertised, the Franklin City Public Schools’ 2024-25 proposed operating and capital fund of $18,603,911 reflects a level funding by the city’s 2023-24 base appropriation of $4,330,237. Of that $4.3 million amount, $4 million is for the operating fund and $330,237 is for capital projects.

The advertised budget also noted that additionally, the city budget includes debt service requirements in the amount of $414,662 for school-related projects. As a result, the total FY 2024-25 school-related funding from the city’s general fund, including debt payments and capital outlay, is $4,744,899.

The real estate tax rate is recommended to remain at $1.03 per $100 of assessed value, including public service corporations assessed by the State Corporation Commission.

The trash collection fee is recommended to remain at $38 per month for residential customers, and the commercial rate also remains unchanged.

Highlighted in the city budget ad is information pertaining to the personal property tax relief rate.

“The council shall set as part of the annual budget, and adopt pursuant to Virginia Code Section 58.1-3524, the rate of tax relief at such a level that is anticipated to fully exhaust PPTRA relief funds provided to the city by the commonwealth,” the budget advertisement states. “This proposed rate is based upon the action of the General Assembly to ‘cap’ the amount of personal property tax relief that the state pays to localities.”

Then the ad includes the following points:

  • Personal use vehicles valued at $1,000 or less will be eligible for 100% tax relief;
  • Personal use vehicles valued at $1,001 to $20,000 will be eligible for tax relief at a percentage of 42%;
  • Personal use vehicles valued at $20,001 or more shall be eligible for tax relief at 42% on the first $20,000 of value and taxed fully on the balance of the value under this program.

The budget advertisement added that water and sewer rates and electric service rates are recommended to remain unchanged, the Downtown District tax rate will remain the same, and no other city fees are proposed to be changed.

During Monday’s meeting, Burcham said, “I can’t take the pride of authorship for this particular budget since much of the work was done prior to my arrival on the first of April, but it is obvious to me in the brief time that I have been here that it has been the dedicated staff and council that has managed to get us to this evening’s public hearing.”

She said that efforts were made to make city employees a priority in the budget, “even though we have some 17 positions that have been frozen both in the current fiscal year and will remain frozen in next year, which means that everybody’s having to work a little bit harder and a little bit smarter, so we have recommended a sharing of the health insurance cost with our employees, as well as the 3% cost-of-living (increase) that we understand is also in the budget that’s before the General Assembly for state employees.”

Burcham noted that there were cuts that exceeded $2 million in balancing the budget.

“And a significant challenge that we obviously have had has been waiting for the reassessment that only arrived finally last week about six weeks later than we had anticipated, as well as the fact that the state budget has yet to be adopted,” she said.

She explained that the reassessment has resulted in increases in land value.

“That’s good news from the standpoint that the value of our properties are increasing,” she said. “I know it’s also the bad news in that our residents will be required to pay more. 

“In that reassessment process there are letters that are going out this week to all property owners indicating what their actual percentage of increase will be,” she continued. “And there will be opportunities as outlined in that correspondence to have hearings first with the assessor and then with the Board of Assessment Adjustment if in fact there’s disagreement about what that increase should be.”

Burcham then offered some insights on the city that she has developed since beginning in her role on April 1.

“I think in the brief time that I have been with the city, which is just a little over five weeks, I certainly have seen that this community has great potential, that you have many amenities that should be enjoyed not only by our residents but future residents,” she said. “I myself experienced an inability to find housing, and I know that housing continues to be a challenge, but I would also say that in order for us to meet current as well as future expenses, the council — and they’ve heard me say this before — will need to consider more frequent adjustments to their fees as well as to the real estate tax in order for us to continue to make the kind of improvements that we need to with our infrastructure.”

She also highlighted that “we have a number of projects that have yet to be discussed that will, again, improve the environment that we have and can attract other individuals to come be a part of this community.”

No members of the public spoke during the public hearing on Monday.


To Burcham, Ward 1 Councilman Mark R. Kitchen said, “I would say that some of the work might have been done by Ms. (Amanda) Jarratt, but you’ve done a great job tying up loose ends.”

Ward 6 Councilwoman Jessica G. Banks said, “Yep, and thank you to the staff that worked hard as well. We appreciate you.” 

Franklin Mayor Robert “Bobby” Cutchins referenced the now-retired Rachel Trollinger when he said, “We definitely appreciate the financial director jumping in and hanging with us and doing her part too.”

Ward 3 Councilman Gregory McLemore had a comment with regard to the contributions to agencies and organizations listed in the proposed budget

“I am concerned that two of the agencies that primarily assist the African American community were not funded — Cover 3 (Foundation) and Virginia Legal Aid,” he said. “Cover 3 feeds poor children or provides meals, hundreds of thousands of meals to poor people, and Legal Aid is something that people, when they can’t afford attornies, Legal Aid helps them. 

“But there’s no funding for either one of those agencies,” he continued. “But yet there is requested $6,500 for Blackwater Community Events and for The Franklin Experience, which do not necessarily put on any events that cater to the African American community.”

Ward 2 Councilman Ray Smith, who has worked with Blackwater Community Events in the past, disagreed with McLemore’s statement and said that probably 20% of the weekly participants involved in the Franklin Cruise-In are African American, and he said events put on by BCE are free and open to everyone.

McLemore said that if an event was catered to the African American population, it would feature more like 80% participation from that demographic instead of the aforementioned 20%.

Kitchen asked if a representative from The Franklin Experience Inc. could come forward and share what that organization does for the city, and Brenda Peterson, a TFE board member, came forward and spoke.

She noted that TFE’s most recent event, the Lumberjack Festevent, featured attendance from a large portion of the African American community, even if the lumberjacks participating were not part of that particular demographic.

Referencing the city of Franklin in the context of the budget discussion, McLemore said, “Being that this is a 65% African American population, I think that we need to reassess — if we can find funds for these other entities, that we can find some funds to help these organizations that help our communities. And that’s my comment on the budget.”

There were questions posed about whether or not Cover 3 or Virginia Legal Aid applied for city funding this year. The answer was not known, but McLemore suggested that if Cover 3 did not apply, it may have been because representatives of the foundation were insulted by the low amount it received from the city last year.

Cutchins praised the work that Cover 3 does and expressed openness to the city providing the foundation funding.

“I would love for the city to be able to help Cover 3,” he said. “The Legal Aid society, I’d like to learn more about that. Maybe a presentation to the city would have helped us with that. So we’ll follow up and see what kind of comments we can get.”