Frankford Town Council discusses budget shortfall

The Town of Frankford held its first public hearing for the 2017-fiscal-year budget on June 2.

Property owner Kathy Murray, who sat on the Budget Committee, reported to the council that the group met nine times, and had met with each council member regarding the town departments they oversee.

Murray also said that the committee “has evidence to prove” the budgets for the Town in previous years were not balanced.

“As a result, this current sitting council has more financial challenges,” she said. “They are now in the position where they are to make tough financial decisions going forward.”

For General Fund revenue, the proposed budget lists a total of $334,540 — with the most revenue coming from taxes, at $111,500, followed by trash income at $75,000.

As for expenditures, the proposed budget shows a total of $379,029, which could put the Town in a $44,489 deficit.

Councilman Marty Presley said the council has some ideas about how to make up the deficit.

“Some are easy; some are not easy,” he said.

Presley mentioned looking into increasing water rates and property taxes. He also said that, with the J.P. Court building being vacated by that tenant at the end of the year, the council should look into potential income from renting that commercial space. Other options discussed included being more aggressive in collecting back-due accounts, and identifying and applying for all grant opportunities.

Presley said the Town is feeling the pinch after Mountaire Farms had stopped using Town water for making feed, choosing to use well water instead, “leaving us hanging” on user charges — a decrease of approximately $10,000 in revenue per year.

“So, for $10,000 a year, we’re allowing them to run 18-wheelers up and down our roads. They have access to 113, a major artery — that’s why they want to be here.

“We had a gentlemen’s agreement for the last 15 to 20 years that we would allow this feed mill plant to be in the middle of our town, with all the inherent dangers, smells, demands on water system, the demands on our police department…

“In your discussion with them, in my discussion with them, they’ve made it very clear, it’s a dollars-and-cents issue… For $10,000, why do we want the feed mill in the middle of our town that goes completely against our comprehensive plan?”

Presley went on to ask if the council would want “to make it difficult for them to be in our town because they went against a gentlemen’s agreement?”

“Do you have an attorney involved?” asked Murray.

“We’re trying to get one. He hasn’t been too responsive…” replied Councilman Greg Welch. “Maybe he’ll step up and start doing something.”

Presley said the council has a number of options to put pressure on Mountaire, including creating an ordinance to prevent future wells from being dug and looking into the zoning of the property, along with the possibility of a heavy industry tax.

“I don’t want to — excuse my language — whore ourselves out for $10,000 a year. I think we can do some other things and put pressure on them.”

At the council’s monthly meeting on June 6, representatives from Mountaire were in attendance.

“We would like to continue to purchase all of fire suppression and potable water from the town,” said Sam Parker, plant manager.

Murray said one of the reasons given for Mountaire’s change to well water for feed production was water quality.

“Yet I don’t recall … Mountaire coming to these meetings and voicing that same concern to the council in a public forum. Who did you present that to?”

Justin Tomlinson of Mountaire said that those concerns were directly relayed to the Town’s water liaison.

“We feel they should’ve been presented in writing to the council, so there would’ve been a record of it,” said Welch.

A second public hearing for the Town’s 2017 budget will be held on Thursday, June 23, at 7 p.m. in the Frankford Volunteer Fire Company’s dining hall.

In other town news:

• Denise MacLeish, community program director of the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, spoke to the council at the June 6 meeting regarding the grant the Town applied for regarding a feasibility study and environmental report of the Town’s water system.

“It can include future improvements, as well as identify what needs to be done presently. Once that report is completed, it would give the Town the opportunity to work with the USDA, and possibly state agencies, to provide funding for future improvements to the Town’s water system.”

MacLeish presented the council with a letter of intent to meet conditions and an obligation document that they will need to complete before anything moves forward.

Once those are returned, “We’re ready to move on it,” she said.

• Police Chief Michael Warchol said the Department of Highway Safety contacted him to see if the department had any funding requests for equipment. He requested monies for a speed trailer and said if they could find the funding, the Town would receive one.

• An executive session will be held on June 16, at which time the council will discuss hiring someone to replace Warchol, who plans to leave the Town, possibly in the fall.

Warchol said he’s had some inquiries already about the position and will speak with the council regarding avenues to advertise the opening.

• The council agreed to bring in a commercial Realtor to look at the Justice of the Peace building, as the court will be moving next year, to get their opinion on the viability of renting the building to another tenant.