By Stephen Smoot
Last week, the Franklin Town Council held a busy first meeting of the year, starting with legally required readings of legal documents pertaining to a water project bond ordinance and a floodplain ordinance.
The water project bond ordinance will permit the town to sell bonds to cover the cost of a major water project. Town administrator Frank Wehrle explained that the bonds have a 40-year schedule of repayment and “the rate is not bad as these things go.” The lowest and winning bid for the project came in at $1.9 million over budget, so the town reset its request to cover the bid and other possible contingencies that could force the cost higher.
“Our goal is to avoid a rate increase,” Wehrle explained. He added that “there is some gravity to this. It’s not the first time the town has had a bond and it won’t be the last. In my time, it has happened four times now.”
By law, the town must hold a second reading in two weeks and will schedule the third with a representative from Steptoe and Johnson at the next regularly scheduled council meeting.
Phase I of the project will involve renovating the town water plant. New equipment and technology will upgrade the efficiency of the plant and provide more timely and accurate data to operators. Also, the Hanover tank shall be sandblasted and painted while also receiving new safety equipment.
Next, the council heard the first reading of the floodplain ordinance. Wehrle stated that the town had to do so to keep the town, its residents, and its businesses eligible for federal flood insurance. The county commission held a similar reading recently for the same purpose. Wehrle reported that the new ordinance had no significant changes over a similar one passed in 2021, except that the community building is no longer considered to be in the floodplain.
He also shared that the town is required to adopt standardized procedures, including forms for water quality complaints, cybersecurity issues, various standard operating procedures, and an emergency water supply plan. Since the town has already complied, the council voted to adopt current policies as written.
Wehrle next reported on what could have been a costly flood at the sewer plant. As he described, “on or about the 23rd or 24th of December, when it was very cold with high winds two water lines froze and burst at the sewer plant.” On Christmas Day, officials met at the plant and determined that the town lost 30,000 gallons of water. The frigid temperatures almost immediately froze the water in place outside of the building. The town filed an insurance claim on the next business day.
Fortunately, as Wehrle explained, “We got lucky, it could have been bad.” The burst pipes left three to four inches of standing water in the facility. Luckily, it did not damage expensive equipment placed on six-inch platforms. Damage was limited to the burst pipes, a few ceiling tiles, a broken water heater, some dry wall, “and, mercifully nothing else,” he said.
Mayor Bob Horan commented that he also inspected the plant, saying “it was kind of a mess when you first look at it, but wasn’t as bad as it seemed.”
In other business, Bruce Minor, council member and Potomac Valley Transit Authority board member, updated the council on “the best rural transit authority in the state of West Virginia.” He said that under executive director Doug Pixler, they have doubled their routes and operations. Minor also shared information that PVTA would participate in a pilot project using hydrogen cell units to power buses.
“Electric vehicles are going away,” Minor explained, adding “hydrogen seems to be the thing.” Diesel has become too expensive and electric vehicles struggle to traverse the mountains of West Virginia.
Wehrle also reported some bright news in the financial statement. With the Federal Reserve raising interest rates to battle inflation, the accounts in which town ARPA funds are deposited have given increasingly good returns. He stated that the money earned on interest may rise enough to force a revision in the budget, which Wehrle said “is a great problem to have.”
Council member Jarred Rawson shared citizen concerns over truckers ignoring the sign urging them to not use “jake brakes” in town. Wehrle explained that West Virginia law forbids local governments from outlawing their use, due to the fact that sometimes their use is a safety issue.
Rawson also shared that some citizens support revitalizing the tennis courts at the park. Elizabeth Scott, a member of the Franklin Board of Parks and Recreation, explained the difficulties in trying to satisfy the needs of various groups wanting to use the park, such as T-ball and Little League baseball, softball, skateboarders, tennis enthusiasts, and others. She stated that the board of parks and recreation would take up the issue at their next meeting.
Horan urged that in making determinations about the park, that “we don’t want to take space away from the kids.” Wehrle added that concerns for the safety of younger children should be recognized as well.
Scott went on to report that the town would send out sponsorship requests to local businesses to help fund the town pool’s needs. Last year, businesses donated approximately $6,000 that covered costs for new chairs and other essential items. Donors could achieve different tiers with a higher level donation.
She also shared updates on upcoming town events. Trout Fest will return to a two-day event. Scott said that she is seeking “more vendors that are into fishing, in addition to crafts and places to shop.” The event will include a tent, music, and “we’re working on having a nice dinner, too.” The beauty pageant will be moved back to a date earlier in the spring.
She also stated that the board wants to grow Summer Fun Fest and will set the date for it permanently as the third weekend in July for the convenience of attendees. Since the fire department has planned a picnic on the same day, Scott said she is working on coordination with them.
Finally, Scott told Horan that “on behalf of town employees, we appreciate that you did a pizza party for us for the holidays.” She shared that those in attendance had an enjoyable time.
The next town council meeting will take place on Tuesday, Feb. 14.