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Commission tightens reins on Franklin development group

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Over the past six years, a city-created agency in Franklin spent nearly $5 million in tax dollars on grants, loans and projects, but that kind of payout isn’t going to happen again because the city wants more control over how money is spent.

If the Franklin Development Corp. gets more tax money in the future, it will be to fund specific projects, according to city redevelopment commission members, who control the tax money.

City residents and business owners have asked the Franklin Development Corp. to help fund about $400,000 in repairs to homes and shops after the organization stopped funding new projects last year. The organization doesn’t have enough money to pay for those projects and plans to approach the city redevelopment commission to request more money from the city’s tax-increment financing (TIF) districts.

An exact amount hasn’t been decided yet, but the $400,000 in proposed projects would be an example of a package the board might ask to fund, board president John Ditmars said.

This time, the city redevelopment commission won’t give away a large chunk of money and then allow the organization to decide how to use it, commission members said. Funding will be tied to specific projects just like any other group that requests TIF dollars, commission members said. Board members also want to know that the current projects are being managed properly and getting finished before they commit new money.

City officials didn’t always know how the development corporation was spending the $5 million in tax dollars or how projects were selected, redevelopment commission member Richard Wertz said. By having the organization ask for money for a single grant or bundle of projects, the commission can have added control over how tax dollars are spent.

“It wasn’t perceived real well in this community,” he said. “They’re going to have to present some kind of a package, and we’ll see where it goes.”

The redevelopment commission will have to be cautious about how much they could give the group, Wertz said. The city board may spend as much as $8.6 million on roads, sidewalks and other projects over the next two years, according to a list of future projects. New requests will need to be carefully considered so the city doesn’t drain all its TIF funds, he said.

The board also wants updates to see how work is progressing on projects that already have been funded. If projects aren’t progressing or will be canceled, then the Franklin Development Corp. could use those funds, redevelopment commission member and city council member Rob Henderson said.

Henderson, who works as a banker, also wants to review policies on when loans and grants are given. If the development corporation wants to fund home repairs, business renovations or new facades, he’ll have a better understanding of what board members have done to make sure those are safe investments of tax dollars.

Since a new board was named to oversee the organization about six months ago, the members have been monitoring projects, revising policies and reviewing programs to put together a funding proposal they hope the redevelopment commission would fund. Board members know they’re not going to get another $5 million to spend as they please and that’s OK, Ditmars said.

“We need to be communicating a little more frequently with the RDC and go to them with block funding as we determine what the needs are,” Ditmars said. “I don’t think we want a blank check. I don’t want to go to them and be given a chunk of money to manage.”

The Franklin Development Corp. wouldn’t be able to fund projects as quickly, but that process would allow the redevelopment commission to have more input on how tax money is being spent, Ditmars said.

One of the main goals of the new board overseeing the development corporation was to start rebuilding trust with city officials and residents, board member Lisa Fears said.

The group made efforts to be more open by having lengthy discussions in public meetings, consulting with city officials and residents to get their input on what the organization should be doing and releasing detailed financial information so anyone can find out how the original $5 million was spent.

The waiting list of projects and feedback from public forums prove that residents and business owners still think the organization can help improve downtown and other parts of the city, Ditmars said.

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