The Franklin Board of Aldermen met Saturday morning for their annual retreat at Town Hall. The retreat's purpose is to allow the town board and other town officials the opportunity to discuss plans for the future of Franklin. Franklin's new town manager, Warren Cabe was on hand to guide the discussion and to give updates on where the governing board stands at the moment and his observations of some of the town's infrastructure. No action was taken at the meeting, but recommendations of policies and ordinances were made for the upcoming year.
Cabe began the discussions with focus on the upcoming budget. A work session is scheduled for May 14 for town officials to meet and discuss the details of the budget for the 2013-2014 fiscal year that will begin July 1, and run through June 30, 2014. Cabe also suggested that a public hearing be held for June 3 to adopt a final budget which would allow a significant amount of time to hammer out details before the budget goes into effect.
“It is my goal to not have to see any kind of a town tax increase,” said Cabe. “I'm not going to promise you that until we get all of the numbers in, but we're going to work with some due diligence to try and make sure that doesn't happen.”
The fund balance was a topic of particular interest. According to Cabe, the town is in good shape financially and functions with a 45 percent fund balance which translates to about $700,000 “free and clear” dollars that can be spent where the town may feel that it is necessary.
“I'm not going to recommend that you balance your budget on the back of that fund balance though,” said Cabe. “You may want to keep the money in there to borrow money from in the future. My recommendation to you as a board is that you adopt a policy to keep that fund balance at a minimum of 50 percent.”
He also warned the board to remember that things often come up in the year that cannot be planned for. Many of those things may come down from the state level and a strong fund balance will help to counteract potential financial burdens that may be passed down to municipalities.
Town property futures
The retreat then shifted gears and moved towards the discussion of two town possessions that may see some movement in the upcoming fiscal year. Beginning with the old Town Hall that is located on Main Street just down from Bryant Funeral Home, Cabe suggested that the board consider selling it.
“At the moment, the building is just being used for storage,” said Cabe. “It's at a little over $1.2 million on the tax rolls. It's not really doing us much good. I know you don't want to sell when the economy is bad because you don't get what it's worth, but we don't know when things are going to be good again.”
He recommended letting Town Attorney John Henning Jr. develop a package to allow a local realtor to find a buyer for the property.
“Just assuming that you get 60 percent of the tax value for it, that would be about $730,000,” said Cabe. “Take part of that money or all of it if you want to and add it back to that fund balance and get us up to that number that I'm happy with, around 50 or 60 percent.” The board seemed to agree.
“It sure is an expensive storage area,” said Alderman Sissy Pattillo.
The Whitmire property located in the city limits just off the Highlands Road has at times been a controversial conversation piece among Franklin citizens. The worth of the 13-acre property is slated to be $1.9 million, according to Cabe, but the town bought the piece of land for $1.5 million.
Cabe recommended three options for the board to consider when looking at the future of the piece of the property; option 1) Sell it; option 2) Use it for something for the benefit of the citizens of Franklin; or option 3) Implement a hybrid plan involving selling a portion of it while turning the other part in to useable space.
“With option one, a risk is apparent that the property may not return the capital that the town has in it,” remarked Cabe.
“I think we need to look at a long range plan with it,” said Pattillo.
“If we sell it then it's gone and then not long after that the money that we got is gone,” said Alderman Bob Scott. “I think the future of Macon County involves the outdoors. One group has already offered to build biking trails. We don't have to make money on it just because we're a town.”
“I agree with Bob on this,” Alderman Farrel Jamison said. “We need to do something with it. With a piece of property in the city limits that is this size, we need to use it. When it's gone, it's gone.”
An assortment of ideas were thrown around. Alderman Joyce Handley brought up the idea of a convention center, much like one that can be found in Clayton, Ga.
“The problem with that is that you've got to have people to take care of something like that,” said Curtis. “The cost to the town just keeps going on and on.”
Mayor Collins suggested that the board consider a solution and add money to the budget to develop a plan for the property. Cabe assured the members that he would return some estimates if that was what they wanted while Curtis dissented with the notion, suggesting that the property be sold.