The Town of Franklin Board of Aldermen gathered at Town Hall for their annual winter retreat Jan. 15, hunkering down for an extended planning session to discuss several issues that the town will face throughout the coming year. Alderman Jerry Evans and Town Planner Michael Grubermann were both absent from the meeting.
The stability of Franklin’s budget is strong for the time being, but as Greenwood explained, is also dependent on the actions of lawmakers in Raleigh.
“When we adopted our budget for this year, back in the height of all the economic disruption, we conditioned a lot of things in our budget on improving or tying it to the state economic situation,” Greenwood explained. He reported that the Franklin sales tax was set at 1 percent and that the town continues to see a varying recovery from a revenue standpoint. He also said that the town will be in a stable financial situation as it enters into the next fiscal year, which he noted was an improvement from last year.
As the General Assembly goes through a historic change of leadership, the concern for the state's infrastructure could be swept out with it, possibly causing problems for local governments. Greenwood warned the General Assembly may be ignorant of the current institutional situation of the state and its districts. “Who knows? We’ll have to sort it out,” he said, uncertain of the outcome.
Doing more with less
Greenwood explained that towns across the state are facing the possibility of the transfer of responsibilities for road maintenance from the state to the local governments, without state financial allocations, a process known as an unfunded mandate. “In the past few years, the state has lowered its maintenance standards,” Greenwood pointed out. “You see less and less frequent paving and repairing.”
If the state chooses to transfer responsibility for secondary road systems to the towns, the responsibilities of road maintenance would be cumbersome for the town to fund, according to Greenwood.
Such a situation would give Aldermen the option to impose additional taxes, in order to pay for the maintenance. He warned that while the General Assembly maintains a position of being beholden to taxpayers, they may likely cast aside responsibilities to town or municipal governments, with little concern of how maintenance is accomplished.
Aldermen cited the Depot Street extension and Palmer Street as roads which were once state maintained, but have since become the responsibilities of the town through bureaucratic politics. “There is, and has been, a prevalent attitude in the General Assembly that local governments have plenty of taxing authority,” remarked Greenwood.
“It appears to me that the whole purpose of the Department of Transportation is to build more roads and leave those behind that were already built to rot,” said Alderman Bob Scott, concerned about the construction of unnecessary roads being built locally. “This is what the DOT is doing. It’s basically become an arm of highway contractors.”
Town Attorney John F. Henning Jr. raised the issue of the proposed minimum housing code that the town has been devising over the last several months.
The purpose of the code is to hold all dwellings within city limits to certain standards in the interest of public safety, though it also hints at some aesthetic preservation.
The code seeks to “establish minimum standards of fitness for the initial and continued occupancy of all buildings used for human habitation,” according to the proposed draft, which Henning hopes to have completed by February.
Henning, who originally proposed the code in lieu of Franklin residential complaints, has since revised some of the language within the proposed code.
Now the code provides that landowners must designate where trash containers are to be located, and does not require that landowners provide them or be responsible for trash collection.
The code could possibly enforce structural, sanitation, plumbing and ventilation standards depending on the judgment of the Town Board.
The board also discussed whether or not the code should be limited to rental properties or also to owner-occupied properties.
Aldermen deliberated the matter, proving to be divided on the issue of whether the code should be actively enforced or complaint-driven, regarding all homeowners or simply renters.
Alderman Billy Mashburn, who admitted to being “on the fence” regarding code enforcement, asked whether the ordinance would “grandfather-in” current properties, to which Henning indicated the code is the type of ordinance that could be immediately enforced.
Alderman Scott commented that many properties, which would benefit from such a code, tend to house miscreants. “I do know that substandard housing is a breeding place for crime. It’s been proven over and over and over.” Scott, in favor of active code enforcement, warned that as the town grows, a minimum housing code would work to deter future domestic problem areas.
“If you’re living next to someone that’s living in their own hovel and you’re trying to keep your property straight, the value of your property is going to be affected by theirs,” remarked Alderman Carolyn “Sissy” Patillo. “Sure that’s your property, but you are also affecting someone else’s.”
Greenwood commented that a minimum housing code could be easily abused if not written properly. “If you don’t have some measure of control over the process, folks will exercise complaints as an opportunity for retribution,” he said. Henning added to the comment that the language of the code provides that at least five complainants must file with the Town over a questionable property.
While land values and common courtesy among neighbors would be protected by such a code, another side of the coin, according to Mayor Joe Collins, would be the diminished individual rights of a resident who may not be financially equipped to deal with problems identified by a town code. “A man’s home is his castle,” he said.
The board concluded that the costs of code enforcement be explored, and that the public should have the opportunity to give input on the matter before the code is presented before the board.
Another issue that fits together with statewide budgetary constraints is the prospect of privatizing alcohol sales in NC. Aldermen opted to discuss the issue.
Greenwood asserted his opinion that doing away with the current ABC system in N.C. appeals to a number of state legislators because of the expedient revenue that can result from it.
Patillo commented that the process of privatizing the ABC system in N.C. would be lengthy, advising that two to three years would be the amount of time for such a system to become complete.
Collins asked Greenwood how much revenue would be lost if alcohol privatization were to occur.
Due to the amount of alternatives up for consideration in Raleigh, Greenwood indicated it was unclear how the Town would be affected from a revenue standpoint, however stressed that it would have to be “vigilant,” as the current ABC system has an abundant value to the town.
Scott suggested the board be as vocal as possible on the matter. “Privatization of alcohol will bring in corruption,” he warned.