Sewer, water infrastructure among items discussed.
The ballot for November's election for Franklin's Town Board is full of candidates. With 10 people vying for the three open aldermen seats and two candidates signed up for the mayor seat, there is no shortage of choices for the town's next representatives. Venture Local Franklin and the League of Women Voters hosted a candidate forum Tuesday night at the Macon Bank Corporate Center to give voters the chance to get to know the candidates better.
Each candidate randomly selected one of four questions regarding pressing town issues to answer for the crowd of voters. Candidates were given six minutes to answer the initial question and then address other issues facing the town.
What would your approach be to managing our sewer and water systems?
Candidate for Town Alderman W.H. Derrick was the first to address the crowd. “The town is going to grow in the coming years and with that we will need to grow our water and sewer,” said W.H. Derrick. “We are going to need to get knowledgeable people in here that know about water and sewer.”
Derrick also spoke to water sources that he would like to see utilized for the purpose of expansion. According to Derrick, if elected, he would like to see the town work with Duke Power on negotiations to tap into Nantahala Lake as a potential water source. He also identified the Cullasaja and Tennessee Rivers as possible sources of expansion. “If you don't have plenty of water and sewage, you don't have a town,” said Derrick of the importance of taking a proactive approach in planning for the future.
With his remaining time, Derrick spoke to the importance of being more fiscally responsible. “The town spends a million dollars to purchase a spot for the new town hall, and then just changed their minds,” eh said. “We need to look at that type of wasteful spending.
Current Town of Franklin Alderman and candidate for Franklin's Mayor Bob Scott informed voters that he believes the methods currently employed by the town are allowing the water and sewer systems to be “adequately managed.” Scott admitted that the current system is getting older and will soon be outdated and alternative options need to be outlined to plan for the future.
Scott also spoke to voters about the potential sources the town has in portions of the Cullasaja and Tennessee Rivers for possible expansion in the future. He cited the importance of working with the county to update the water treatment plant and to grow the town's water and sewer to ensure that property in the ETJ (Extra Territorial Jurisdiction) areas are able to tap into the town water. “No town can ignore their water, sewer, police or fire department,” said Scott. “If they do, the town would become unattractive for anyone.”
If elected mayor, Scott promised voters that he would protect the civil liberties of his constituents and would ensure that the town government is as transparent and open to residents as possible. He also cited the importance of allowing people who reside outside of city limits but are stakeholders in the town such as business owners to have a role in the decision-making process of the town. “You may not have a vote, but I promise you will have a voice,” said Scott.
Town of Franklin Alderman candidate Adam Kimsey spoke about opening up conversations regarding annexation of existing properties to allow the water and sewer systems to expand. “Franklin doesn't have a lot,” he said. “We need to work with the county to open sources that they currently own.”
Kimsey believes that through open dialogue between the county, town and individuals who would be affected by extending Franklin city limits, annexation would stand as the town's best option to expanding the water and sewer systems.
Touting one of Franklin's greatest assets, the simplicity of its natural beauty and small town charm, Kimsey said it's important to preserve the town's image and core. “We need to protect and build on the atmosphere and environment that is already in Franklin,” said Kimsey. “We need to embrace it. We can work with neighboring counties like Buncombe to see what their successes and what their failures are and see how those can work here for us.”
Kimsey also stated the importance of welcoming new business owners in Franklin and cited his own experience with trying to get a business up and running. “It would be so great to have a resource for people who are buying and developing business here,” he said. “Someone we can go to to help in the process would tell new businesses that the town supports them and wants them here.”
What should be the role of town government in economic development?
Town Alderman candidate Angela Hubbs Moore addressed the audience by saying that her premise for running for office was to see town taxes cut in any and every way possible. “I am running to see our taxes cut,” said Moore. “Economic Development is not served by taking from all and giving to a select few.”
Moore said that the free market makes better choices than the government and the town should be run to resemble such. According to Moore, if town events or businesses are going to be successful, they should do so on their own without the help of the town. "Events should have volunteers, sponsors, private donors, not taxpayers' money. If an event cannot happen without funding from the town, then it isn't ever going to be successful,” said Moore. “Building businesses on local government funds isn't how to be successful. They need public support.”
Citing examples of what she considered to be wasteful spending on behalf of the town, Moore noted that programs funded by the town such as the Main Street Program are prime examples of town taxpayers' dollars not being spent well. The Main Street Program is given a budget of $90,000 a year to hold events, for beautification and for the director's salary, said Moore. Historically, Moore said that these duties were carried out by volunteers who were invested in the town, and moving forward they should transition back to a volunteer organization instead of something funded by taxpayers. “This should be town supported, but not town funded,” she said.
Patti Halyburton Abel, candidate for town alderman, cited her experience as a small business owner in Macon County as knowing firsthand ways economic development can be improved in Franklin. “I was born here and after leaving for a while, I came back to raise my family in in Franklin because of the tightknit community,” said Abel. “I want to see the town continue to build efforts to let business owners know that the town supports them.”
Abel informed voters that if elected, she would like to see someone in the town, similar to what Tommy Jenkins does as the county Economic Development Director, who is accessible to business owners to help guide them in the endeavors of economic development. “It would be nice to have a checklist of things that need to be done when starting a business here, and even to have someone check-in after you get up and going,” said Abel.
Citing tourism as the town's largest industry, Abel told voters more efforts could be made to build tourism through preservation and planning ways to tap into the natural assets of Franklin.
Abel spoke to the importance of keeping the town's Main Street and downtown area alive and vibrant. “If your downtown isn't vibrant, the town dies,” he said. To ensure economic growth, Abel suggested the town move toward hosting networking events between town leaders and business owners to have conversations regarding directions to take in a joint effort to build the local economy.
In what ways and on what issues is it important for the town and county to work together?
Billy Mashburn, the sole incumbent running to retain his seat on the board of aldermen, informed voters that during his tenure with the board, the town and county have worked to build an open relationship and stay connected on issues of mutual interest. “I think it is very important to work together with the county,” said Mashburn. “We have quarterly meetings between Highlands, Franklin and the county just so we can all be on a personal basis with each board.” It makes it easier to accomplish things when you know who you are working with.”
Just last year, Mashburn was part of a joint effort between the county and town to ensure that the former Whitley Plant continued to operate to save more than 100 jobs. Mashburn informed voters that on that project, the town and county worked to find incentives for a new business to allow them to relocate to Franklin to keep the plant's doors open.
“I would like to retain my seat specifically to see all the water and sewer projects through to completion,” said Mashburn. “That is something I have always been passionate about and want to see finished.”
Working with the county is going to be an integral part of expanding the water and sewer systems and water treatment plants.
Supporting change and improvements among the local government, Mashburn said one avenue that can be improved on is finding uses for existing properties within the town. According to Mashburn, he would like to see the town work with the county to identify properties that are already owned by either of the entities and to find new uses for them, specifically he named the old Drive-In movie theater.
Alderman candidate Emmanuel Carrion said that it is important for the city and county to work in a collaborate effort in areas such as crime, unemployment, transportation and growth management. “Collaboration is the key,” he said.
Citing specific examples, Carrion said moving forward the county and town must come to a mutual agreement and work jointly on the Nikwasi Indian Mound.
Carrion told voters that the three things he stands for are small businesses, family and Franklin residents. “If elected, I want to work to promote tourism while finding ways to bring more full-time residents here to make a more year-round economy,” he said.
As a business owner and father, Carrion said he wants to run for office to lead by example and show his children that Franklin is a place for a successful business and lifestyle in the future. “I want to see Franklin grow and prosper and I hope that kids in the future will be able to come here and start their own businesses,” he said. “I want to build Franklin for our youth.”
Alderman candidate Barbara McRae said that she decided to run for office after being discouraged in previous years about the lack of public interest in local government. McRae said that cooperation between the town and county is inevitable. “Macon County and Franklin are indispensable to each other,” she said. “You cannot separate the two.”
McRae cited the former Whitley Plant as a prime example of how the two entities have worked together in the past and the importance of continuing that relationship in the future. “Water and sewer is another example of how the town and county will need to work together,” said McRae. “The town owns it, but property in the outer city limits use it. In expanding the systems, we will have to work together to build and distribute the water and sewer.”
As legislation changes are constantly happening, McRae said that town government is losing control of past obligations such as being able to regulate the ETJ areas. With the town losing control of regulatory opportunities, McRae spoke to the importance of properly maintaining the governmental operations for which the town retains control.
A specific example of working jointly with the town that McRae cited was recreational opportunities. Currently, recreation falls as a duty to the county and recreational activities such as the community pool fall outside of city limits. “I would like to see the town work with the county to bring recreational opportunities closer to town and closer to where more people live,” she said. “We would need to take a cooperative approach.”
The county currently owns the Little Tennessee Greenway and is responsible for the upkeep and promotion of it. McRae said she would like to see the town take more ownership in it and work with the county on matters concerning the Greenway.
Vision 2033- What do you think will be the most important initiatives for a viable, vibrant Franklin in 20 years?
Town alderman candidate Thomas Ritter said the key to ensure that Franklin is still thriving in 2033 is fiscal responsibility. “It is not about how much money we pay in taxes, but more about where it goes,” said Ritter. “Making sure our tax dollars are being spent responsibly and in the best interest of residents."
Ritter said his vision for 20 years would be to see clean businesses operating within the city. To grow the town and be able to sustain any amount of growth that is inevitable in the next 20 years, Ritter spoke of the importance of expanding the healthcare and ensuring that as a rural community, Franklin is able to provide the best healthcare possible. “It is a shame to think that in the hour and a half trip from here to Asheville, you could lose critical medical treatment,” said Ritter.
As a small community, Ritter said Franklin and Macon County is too small for political leaders to be fighting one another. “I am so tired of 5 to 1 votes on the town and 3 to 2 votes on the county,” he said. “We are too small to have boards fighting against each other.”
With children in college, Ritter wants to run for office to make Franklin a destination or them to return to after college and for the economy to be strong enough for them to start a business.
Town of Franklin candidate Mack Brogden said his main focus for 2033 is to bring jobs to the area. As a fifth generation Macon County resident, Brogden said he has seen the town and the economy change drastically, and the only thing certain for the next 20 years is continued change. Regardless of how the town evolved, the one thing that will always be needed are jobs. “It doesn't matter if they are medical, technical, clean industry, just as long as we have some kind of jobs,” he said.
Brogden said Franklin currently has a strong retirement community, but in order to thrive, the next generation needs to be young and innovative to bring the jobs needed to sustain the economy moving forward.
As a small, close community, Brogden said one of Franklin's best assets is the small town feel, and he hopes in 20 years, Franklin will still have that.
Current Town of Franklin Alderman and candidate for Mayor Sissy Pattillo said that with the constant change in government and technologies, planning for 20 years is seemingly impossible, but a five-year plan would be more obtainable.
In the next five years, Pattillo believes the local government should focus on water, sewer, sidewalks, streets and economic development. The infrastructure in the streets and sidewalks and building on existing efforts to bring jobs to the area such as the county's economic development center should be targets for the future, said Pattillo.
Pattillo said that an important tool for growth and moving forward is to foster a collaborate effort between town businesses, county officials, and individuals in the community to pull ideas and resources.
“I decided to run for mayor because I love Franklin,” said Pattillo. “I have children, grandchildren, and other family in the city limits. As a third generation resident I know what it is like to look at the past to embrace the future.”