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Editorial: Development board to chart new course

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Members of the Franklin Development Corp. board have decided to take a break and spend the next three months laying out goals for the coming year.

But during that time, the board also will need to ask for more tax dollars to pay for operating expenses, including legal and accounting fees, in 2014. And they will find out what the community thinks is most needed in Franklin before asking for more tax dollars to fund future projects.

These actions — especially setting goals and seeking public input — are important for the long-term success of the agency and for the city of Franklin.

The organization, which was set up in 2008 and funded with $5.6 million from the city, has decided to stop accepting new applications for projects, which in the past have included new façades for downtown businesses. Board members need to decide how the organization will pay for ongoing legal and accounting expenses, what type of projects the group should be funding and where the money will come from.

The three-month break is necessary to figure out how the group should be serving the city after the board was reorganized last summer, board president John Ditmars said.

The board has three short-term goals for 2014: get more operating funds, develop a new plan for future programming and seek more money to fund new projects. The agency spent all of the $600,000 set aside for operating costs, including the more than $85,000 salary of the former executive director, and has $360,000 left of $5 million for projects.

That money came from the city’s tax-increment financing districts, which set aside property taxes from certain companies typically for economic development projects.

Now, officials know they will need to ask for more money from the city. The first request will be for operating funds, since the organization expects it will need $38,000 to function but has only $22,000 in the bank.

During the next three months, the board will start a needs assessment and gather information about what type of programs the organization should be offering. That could include interviews with residents, business owners or leaders of community organizations, focus groups and public meetings, board member Lisa Fears said.

The feedback from those meetings should help the board determine whether to continue programs, such as loans to homeowners and businesses or grants for facade repairs. Board members also hope the meetings will spawn ideas for new programs.

Once the board decides what those programs will be, it will need to find the money to fund them. The board also wants to develop a long-term plan about how it will operate and what projects it will fund and be able to give several examples of businesses already seeking money for projects.

The agency has brought energy to downtown redevelopment. It is important that the city build on that momentum, but at the same time, efforts must be deliberate and coordinated.

Therefore, the agency is taking the right steps in taking a break, seeking public input and developing a long-term plan.

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