My Turn: United we stand, divided we fall in Franklin

For the Monitor
Published: 6/1/2019 12:10:25 AM

Undoubtedly, the city of Franklin is experiencing a renaissance. Mills continue to be repurposed, new businesses are flocking to Central Street, our thriving manufacturing sector is making significant investments in its plants, ground has been broken for our newest Mill City Park and there’s continuing progress on the whitewater park.

Many say this is occurring because “development is simply moving north.” I disagree.

It has taken us decades to get where we are today. Our success has always been built on having the right people, in the right place, at the right time – all pulling in the same direction, “united” to make great things happen throughout our city. Until, of course, budget season rolls around.

Every year during the budget process, news coverage about our city turns ugly as critics point fingers at the city council and taxpayers for not supporting our schools. A simple review of the facts proves nothing could be further from the truth.

Typically, the school board requests that its budget for the upcoming year be increased to cover anticipated lost revenue from state and federal sources, as well as monies for raises and other reasonable expenditures. Last year that number was $412,000. The city council approved $424,000, or nearly three times more than other departments receive as their tax cap allotted funding increases. In prior years, the city council has moved similar revenues to the schools at the expense of other city departments.

This year, the city council expected a similar request, but instead we were shocked to receive a
$2.5 million increase over last year’s budget.

So that the citizens of Franklin can put this number into perspective, if adopted, the school department’s increase would lead to massive municipal department layoffs. Options for the city council would be to shutter our police department, move to a totally volunteer fire department (with virtually no equipment), eliminate all road repair projects into the foreseeable future, cease all trash pickup, eliminate all summer recreational activities and the list goes on.

To maintain current city services and raise $2.5 million via the taxpayers (in other words break the tax cap as has been suggested by school board members and some city councilors), everyone can expect a 20% tax increase.

Put in real terms, the average property-tax payer would see their bill rise by $1,000 per year. And for those of us whose property assessments just increased, those tax increases would be even larger.

Fortunately, these are scenarios that would never occur as I have always pledged to veto any budget that breaks our citizen-mandated tax cap. In addition, there’s a large majority of the current city council that would sustain that veto.

But what is most disturbing about this year’s school budget proposal is when the school board chair talked about his massive increase (of which a similar increase sparked the whole tax cap movement 30 years ago), he admitted they never expected it to be funded. So, you might ask, “Why spend all that time assembling a budget that you knew would never be accepted by the city council?”

Well, now after recent negative news articles, it’s obvious the purpose was to use the inflated numbers to embarrass and malign the city of Franklin for not fully supporting education.

Simply stated, these disingenuous tactics must cease as they “divide us” and ultimately undermine our concerted efforts to revitalize our community, grow revenues, better fund all our services and ultimately reduce the financial burdens placed on our taxpayers.

Having worked together for years, the school board and school administration know the city council has always done everything in its power to adequately fund our schools. Year after year, department heads across the city carefully construct their budgets to wring out every available penny so schools can have additional funding.

Last year I created a mayoral special committee tasked with coming up with innovative ways to reduce costs while finding more efficient and effective ways to educate our children.

Councilor Jo Brown (Ward 1) chaired this exceptional committee as they came up with multiple suggestions – but their results have so far received little to no interest.

The city council finance committee has worked diligently with the school board finance committee to come up with ways to consolidate duplicative city and school services. Study results have shown savings in the tens of thousands of dollars – all of which would be dedicated to hiring more teachers. But, again, these findings have been summarily dismissed by the school board and administration.

Most importantly, I, along with the city council, will continue to work with the schools to deliver a better education at a lower cost to our taxpayers. But, in the end, I will always be united with our taxpayers in supporting a budget that meets our city-charter-mandated tax cap, for I firmly believe we can never spend more than we, the taxpayers, can afford to fund.

(Tony Giunta is the mayor of Franklin.)

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