New members of a Franklin agency will need a few months to learn about pending projects totaling more than $2.4 million before deciding what to do next.
Four new members appointed to the Franklin Development Corp. board since July want to learn about all of the projects the group has funded since it was formed in 2008. But before that, they and one reappointment from the original board will have to find two more members to join them.
Most of the original $5 million in taxpayer dollars given to the group in 2008 has been spent or committed to projects. While managing the group’s current projects, the newly reorganized group will have to decide how best to use the remaining $350,000.
Finding new funds to bolster that amount will be a priority, board members said. Setting standards for conducting business such as when money is paid out for projects and updating the group’s website and contact information also will be early projects.
But after the initial learning and to-do list is finished this year, board members plan to continue programs aimed at improving the downtown and Franklin neighborhoods. Loans and small grants for home and business renovations are likely to continue. And members may consider starting programs to help small-business startups buy equipment or pay for rent.
The board also wants to start sharing more information about projects, spending and finances with the public, which was a major reason behind the reorganization pushed for by Mayor Joe McGuinness. The changes to the board allowed city officials more control over who is appointed and for how long.
New board members first will review 29 active and pending projects, which total more than $2.4 million. That number includes nine projects approved by the former board early this year as part of a second grant cycle as well as matching funds for downtown facade projects funded by a state grant, grants for building renovations for the Franklin Elks and Franklin Chamber of Commerce and $100,000 set aside to fund new downtown facade programs.
The organization started in 2008 with $5 million from the city’s tax-increment financing districts, which set aside some tax money collected from businesses to be used for economic development. As of the end of July, about $2.8 million of that original money is left in the bank, but most of it has been committed to projects.
New board member John Wales wants to get informed about all of the pending projects, but the amount of grants given by the group within the past year will limit what the board can do in coming years.
“The big-money giveaway projects that the FDC initiated here, I’m a little concerned by. I think that it really hurt the longevity of the organization. Not to say those aren’t good projects, but we need to take a closer look going forward and if they make sense, let’s do them,” he said.
The board will need to explore options to apply for state or federal grants that can then be used since the organization does not have a way to generate new income, board member Lisa Jones said. One of the reasons the Franklin Development Corp. was formed in 2008 was to apply for grants the city wasn’t eligible for, but the group either hadn’t looked or hadn’t been able to get any up to this point, Wales said.
When considering new projects, the board also will develop a new standardized method for how money is paid out. The previous board varied from project to project, with some payments being made before any money was spent on materials or labor, Franklin community development director Krista Linke said. For example, the board could consider an initial disbursement of 10 to 25 percent to allow a contractor to buy materials for a facade project, Linke said. But after that, a group would need to turn in invoices and checks to the organization in order to be reimbursed for costs, similar to how projects funded by the city redevelopment commission are handled, she said.
The four new members — Wales, Jones, Angela Coy and Steve Woods — have met as a group only once, so the board hasn’t set a direction for what kind of projects it wants to fund in the future or how it wants to spend money.
The only returning member from the original board, John Ditmars, wants to keep the Franklin Development Corp. primarily focused on the downtown and the nearby residential areas. For example, of the the $900,000 in grants given out by the organization this year, about $800,000 went to projects within a three- or four-block radius of the courthouse.
‘Working from the inside’
“My objective has been from day one is we should be working from the inside out. To me downtown is what we need to focus on with maybe some other outliers as appropriate, but primarily it’s a downtown initiative, not only in the city proper but in some of the residential district to make it the place where people want to live and work,” he said.
Woods, who lives on Madison Street, is impressed with how the investment in facades and building renovations is giving the downtown a unified look, and he said he would like to see those programs continue. But future projects should be driven by what property owners want, and the board should have programs, such as the facade repair program, funded and ready when those owners want to start a new project.
“We want to make sure there is an opportunity and forum for them to do that,” Woods said.
The current five members still have to appoint two more at-large members to the board who will each serve one-year terms. McGuinness has said he would prefer those one-year members come from community groups with a wide influence such as Franklin Community School Corp., Johnson Memorial Hospital or Discover Downtown Franklin. Board members are asking anyone interested to contact Linke but also will contact people who might be good fits.
Ditmars thinks the current members already give the board a new look compared with the former board, which was composed of several members who came from other government boards. Ditmars is now the only member who currently serves on another city board, while the new members bring job experience from fields including banking, accounting and insurance.
“There are some people outside of the government aspect. We’ve got a little more independence in the board which I think is a good thing,” he said.