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Growing pains, uncertainty facing Franklinton officials

FRANKLINTON -- Town management told commissioners to prepare themselves for some growth, some growing pains and a bit of uncertainty.

Because of the social distance requirements of COVID-19, the Franklinton Board of Commissioners had not met as a group since February.

Since that time, Town Manager Gregory Bethea has met with commissioners, generally two at a time, to keep them apprised of town activity.

That ended last week when the board held a work session -- which essentially served as a catchup and question and answer session.

"The board was itching to have more communications ... and we've been trying to figure out how best to do that," Bethea said following the May 12, in-person workshop. It was a public meeting, however, social distancing was practiced and, other than board members and Bethea, The Franklin Times was the only other presence at the meeting.

"We had been meeting individually, [but] that just wasn't satisfactory," Bethea said. "The board said, 'Geez, we really need to have everybody hearing the same thing and getting the same reaction.'

"So, this workshop has kind of been percolating," he said, noting that a planned retreat in March was cancelled due to COVID-19. This session was an opportunity to say, 'I'm here. Ask me any question you got."

• The town's budget was the primary topic of the May 12 session, both the current spending plan and expectations for the 2020-21 document.

Most importantly, though, Bethea said the town's budget will focus on improving the town's quality of service, through training, education and expectations.

The current budget has been built around six goals outlined by town commissioners:

• Improving the town's response to crime;
• Improving the town's ability to support quality development;
• Improving relationships and communications between town staff and the community;
• Improving the town's roadways;
• Incentivizing downtown development;
• Maintaining a small, capable and competitively compensated workforce.

The 2020-21 budget, Bethea said, will be about quality work, particularly as it relates to bulk trash pickup service that the town began doing on its own last year.

"... This year, it's going to all be about trying to improve the quality of the things that we do," he said. "This is going to be a lot more about how we do things than the specific things that we do.

"So, we're obviously putting emphasis on things like training and on experiences," he said. "We want to get better at the things we do."

He said that approach may create some discomfort with town staff, at least initially. "This coming year is not just about doing the stuff, but doing it at a level that we would pay someone else to do it," he said.

"... We're trying to work through that, but it means being, to some degree, not satisfied," he said. "So, the expectation is that employees will not be happy for a while.

"So, if anybody's taking a temp on employees, at the beginning of the year, the temp is going to be like it is at the beginning of a class at school: The students are not going to be happy. At the end of the year, we'll be okay.

"... I want to be up front about it," Bethea said. "This is not going to make everybody feel good."

Commissioner John Allers wondered if that impact could be softened by having staff understand the effort is part of educating and training efforts.

Even then, Bethea said he expects there to be some discomfort. "... Part of it is understanding that we're expecting more out of them than we have ever expected," Bethea said. "

"We've been paying them, but we've not been expecting the level that we're talking about expecting."

• Beyond employee expectations, Bethea said during the May 12 meeting that he wanted to wait as long as possible before presenting commissioners with a budget.

The ramifications from COVID-19 have generated some uncertainties with financial expectations and he said he'd like to have the most recent data available before presenting commissioners with the town's next fiscal plan.

"I'm holding out giving you a budget until I get better information than what I've got now," he said. "That's why I'm trying to hold it until the last possible time to do it. I'm telling you what I'm thinking [regarding sales taxes and property taxes] but, honestly, I'm trying to hold out.

"I want to see as recent a number as I can get and I don't have those."

• Bethea and the board did talk about good news, particularly developments that are taking place in the heart of town. Bethea said there are about eight properties in downtown that are undergoing facelifts.

And, the town was recently gifted three properties on Mason Street, between Main Street and the railroad crossing, that the town seeks to market for development.

"This development downtown, it's just thrilling to me," Bethea said. "I'm overwhelmed with how that's kind of happening ... in the midst of this horrible thing [COVID-19], it's continuing to move.

"... It feels like we've got a bunch of things happening," he said. "It's cool."

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Members Opinions:
May 21, 2020 at 10:50am
Thank God for the new town management for you have done a good job. In past years I have put trash out and after a month or so, picked it up and took it to the dump myself. I've been living in the same house for 45 years and raised hell because I couldn't get my trash picked up. Now it's not a problem so I want mind a tax increase that's within reason because we are getting better services.

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