Before we get to the main story, some background.
On August 21, 2018, the Franklin Common Council was forced to make a decision it preferred not to on a public safety referendum because public surveys on the issue were returned that were a complete disappointment to the Common Council members. They wanted to go to the public demanding the moon. Instead they had to settle for far less.
Even so, asking for three more police officers would be as simple a task as Mike Tyson in the ring against Pee Wee Herman.
So they voted. Let’s go to referendum. A handful of just police officers. Easy, safe (lack of courage) vote, 5-0. The Pontius Pilate vote. We’ll put it on a referendum.
Problem that I uncovered. The referendum called for an automatic 18-years of spending and property tax increases.
So on October 10, 2018, I sent an e-mail to the five Franklin aldermen who voted in favor of going to referendum. Here’s my e-mail:
On August 21, 2018, you voted in favor of placing a public safety referendum on the November ballot. Upon my request, City Clerk Sandi Wesolowski sent me a document explaining the referendum wording, specifically the part that reads “and on an ongoing basis.” The explanation sent to me says:
A “yes” vote will allow the City of Franklin to increase the total City property tax levy to pay for adding three new police officers, which will help to close a current staffing shortage that is premised on a comparison to other similar and nearby communities and on calls-for-service. The increase in levy for this purpose will be $531,258 beginning for next fiscal year, 2019, which is for tax bills issued in December of 2018.
That same amount will remain in the base property tax levy for each year going forward and is estimated to fully fund the positions for approximately the next 18 years.
It’s understood the exact wording of the referendum had not been chosen yet at the August meeting that this issue was voted on. However, I have questions I’d like you to answer.
1) Were you aware at the time that the referendum was not to increase the levy for one year but for many years into the future?
2) Are you still in support of the referendum as worded that calls for the increased levy amount to remain in the budget for the next 18 years?
I look forward to your responses.
Here are the responses, unedited, that I received.
First, from Alderman Steve Taylor who responded almost instantly:
I am happy to answer your questions:
- I knew that referendum had a roughly 18 to 20 year implication. Also, the city had zero say in the wording as we have to follow state statutes.
- I have attached a memo sent to us by our city attorney that lays out how elected officials and city staff are able to handle the referendum. In basic terms we are not allowed to publicly lobby either way. I am telling you that my position is in support based on my conversations with Chief Oliva. But the decision is solely up to the voters.
Alderman John Nelson
At the time of the vote realized that a tax levy increase would be for many years, as paying for 3 police officers was not a one year commitment.
And in short summary, I fully support adding the 3 Police Officers, as I feel public safety is paramount and it is a prudent and wise decision for our community now and in the future.
Alderman Mike Barber
The direct answer to your question is; Yes I did know that this would be an ongoig funding source for the three Officers.
I want to know what the majority of the citizens feel about the need for more safety in Franklin. I beleive a referendum is the best way to seek an answer on what direction the City will take. This is away for voters to inform their elected officials on what they want to see happen.
I wish it were easier to do more referendums. The information gained is a true representation of the wants of the whole community. Voting matter.
Aldermen Dan Mayer and Kristen Wilhelm did not respond.
The City Attorney has instructed Common Council members not to lobby either way on the referendum question. However they are allowed to “educate” citizens.
I wonder how many are telling residents what they’re actually voting on.
This entire referendum process was botched from the start. Franklin should have addressed funding for police protection the way it’s always done by municipalities everywhere: during the annual budget process.