Budget, water plant woes plague Frankford town council

The Frankford Town Council will hold several meetings in the coming weeks to address the Town’s 2019 budget, while also continuing to work toward hiring a new town solicitor.

At its Monday, July 2, meeting, the council set dates for two workshop meetings and two public hearings on its budget. The first workshop will be July 10 at 6 p.m. and will focus on the Town’s water plant. The second, set for July 12 at 6 p.m., will focus on all other Town departments.

Both of those meetings are open to the public, as are two hearings on the proposed budget. Those hearings are scheduled for consecutive Thursdays, July 19, and July 26, both at 6 p.m.

Meanwhile, the Town continues to struggle to keep its water plant running. Clarence Quillen of White Marsh Environmental Systems, which operates the plant for the Town, said one of the pumps is down, but that a secondary pump is now in use, and a third backup is also available “for dire emergencies.”

“So, we’re OK,” Council President Joanne Bacon said. “Yeah,” Quillen said. “It will keep the town in water.”

Council Vice President Greg Welch said the Town continues to wait for word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on help with upgrading the water plant. He said an environmental review was done a year ago and “they’re waiting on a couple other things,” and he has not heard anything further. “I don’t really feel like they’re dealing with us candidly,” Welch said.

“We are looking at other options for our water plant,” continued Welch. “This budget season, we should have been really looking at what it’s costing, and we haven’t had a sit-down to do that yet like we had in past years, like every past year that I’ve been on council.”

“We really need to delve into the water plant,” Welch said. “There’s all kinds of options and directions we could go, and you need to plan for it.”

Welch, and fellow budget committee member Kathy Murray, were critical of the lack of budget meetings this year, with the first public hearing on the proposed budget less than three weeks away.

Welch and Murray, along with Council Secretary/Treasurer Velicia Melson, expressed concerns about changes in the budget process in previous years that were the result of an audit of the Town’s finances. Murray said previous changes “made it very difficult to really streamline the budget last year.”

Welch offered to send Murray updated financial information to look at “because I know you’ve got a great deal of knowledge of how it was structured and how it was restructured and everything else, but this year we haven’t sat down and looked at what was happening like that.”

“We were in a situation this last couple of years where we were looking at raising taxes to pay for things,” Welch said. “But we also had wants, like a town manager. We have to budget for something like that,” he said. “This is the season when we’re supposed to be doing all that.”

“We’ve got a busy month ahead of us,” Welch said.

He added that the Town needs to address the loss of revenue from water service to Mountaire, which constructed its own water system at its feed facility in Frankford and no longer uses the Town’s. “The sad fact is, we’re going to have raise rates and fees, and taxes, or something,” to cover that shortfall, he said.

Welch said the Town has missed payments on a loan from the state Office of Drinking Water for the water system. “That’s how we’re staying solvent — we’re not paying our bills,” Welch said. The state drinking water office had offered to forgive the loan if the Town added fluoride to its water.

Welch said he has not been in contact recently with the state’s drinking water office.

“When we had an attorney, he was doing that,” Welch said. (Town Attorney Chad Lingenfelder was dismissed in May.)

Welch blamed the state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control for “illegally” approving Mountaire’s in-house water system, which caused a 50 percent loss of revenue for the Town’s water system.

Right now, he said, the Town needs to “raise your rates or get some [new] customers” to address the loss in revenue.

Meanwhile, the council decided to require annexation of a neighboring mobile home park in order for the owner to be able to hook up to town water. Park owner Nino D’Orazio had expressed a desire to join the town water system but did not want to annex into the town.

Welch said he did not feel that policy is beneficial to the Town.

“We’re not going to have any growth if you do that,” he said. “We’re certainly working on water rates to make it beneficial for those who want to be in the Town,” he said. “I think it’s really fair the way we do it, but I think our rates are really high.

Resident Travis Martin asked the council, “Isn’t it better to have that additional revenue? Why not just get the money from the water?”

Another resident, Robbie Murray, countered that “Once he has water, there’s no incentive to annex in.” Murray suggested the  Town consider allowing those outside town limits to join the water system, but requiring that they annex into the Town within a given time period, with their water rates increasing each year that they do not annex.

In other business, the council:

• Announced a July 11 executive meeting during which the council will interview a candidate for the town attorney position.

• Announced the departure of the town’s maintenance supervisor, David Ward, although Bacon declined to provide information on whether Ward quit or was fired;

• Heard a presentation from Councilman Skip Ash on proposals to deal with ongoing drainage issues throughout the town;

• Accepted an $8,000 purchase bid for a Chevrolet Suburban owned by the Town from a resident of Pennsylvania; and

• Approved a request from Envision Frankford to build a “gingerbread house” for sales of refreshments during town events that will double as a storage shed when not in use for that purpose. The shed will be built by Contractors for a Cause.

By Kerin Magill
Staff Reporter