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Wednesday, 27 September 2017 15:01

Franklin doles out $40K in community funding

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Every year the Franklin Town Council struggles to meet the needs of the community with only $40,000 to spend on nonprofit requests.

This year, 13 local charities requested a total of $52,250, which meant the town board had to make some hard choices. Not every organization can get what it wants, but hopefully will get what is needed in the end.

One applicant’s request caused some tension and disagreement between the board and Mayor Bob Scott. Macon New Beginnings, a newer nonprofit working toward addressing the issue of homelessness in Macon County, requested $3,750 from the town to cover the rental fees on the community building at Memorial Park.

Macon New Beginnings President Bob Bourke told the board that the nonprofit rents the community building every Thursday night for its Serving Spoon program, which provides a free meal to anyone in the community.

However, Scott said he wasn’t sure if the board should commit the community building to one group for an entire year since the rental is suppose to be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. He also said the board would be setting a bad precedent by basically waiving the fee on the building for one group.

“If we granted this, how can we not waive the fee for any other group that comes to us?” Scott asked.

Bourke said Macon New Beginnings wasn’t asking to waive the fee — it’s asking for funding from the town’s community pool to use toward paying the rental fees so the town would be getting the money right back.

When asked about who comes to eat every Thursday night, Bourke said an average of 34 people attend every week and different churches donate the meals. While there are no criteria of who can come eat, he said many people are the poor, elderly or disabled residents who come to enjoy a hot meal and fellowship with others in the community.

“It might be the only sit down meal where they get to chat with others — we’re helping them feel like part of the community,” Bourke said.

Town Councilmember Barbara McRae said she didn’t think it would set a precedent that the board couldn’t handle — anyone wanting a waived fee would have to come before the board and prove they were meeting a community need. However, she agreed that she didn’t think this instance was the same as waiving the fee.

“I don’t care how you’re putting it — you’re asking us to waive the fee and allow you to use it every Thursday night — 50 Thursdays a year,” Scott said.

“If it’s to help people have a good meal I’m OK with that,” said Town Councilmember Joe Collins.

After further discussions, the town board decided to grant Macon New Beginnings $3,750 with the understanding the group would still need to reserve the space in advance to allow other groups the same opportunity. The funding can also be used to rent another space if the community building isn’t available.

The town board decided not to grant a $1,500 funding request from Mountain Mediation Services, an organization offering affordable mediation and conflict resolution services to the seven most western counties. The funds would have gone toward funding a Macon County coordinator position, but the town’s community funding policy does not allow for the funding of operational expenses.

The board also denied a $5,000 request from Men’s Teen Challenge of the Smokies, a Christian-based rehabilitation program for men struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

“It’s not located in town and it only serves men — I don’t know if it’s a good fit,” Scott said.

Town Attorney John Henning Jr. agreed that giving the nonprofit $5,000 could be considered discriminatory since the program only serves men.

Lastly, the town board decided not to fund a $1,000 request from Streets of Franklin Heritage Association to purchase fall and spring themed light pole decorations to hang downtown.

While beautifying downtown Franklin is important to the town board, it just didn’t reach the level of helping people, which is what the community funding is geared toward.

“That was the one I’m less inclined to support,” said Town Councilmember Brandon McMahan. “… It’s less important than helping people out.”

At that point the board had narrowed down the requests to under $45,000. Collins suggestion was to approve the remaining requests at a reduced percentage across the board to meet the $40,000 threshold.

“I don’t have a vote, but I was hoping to avoid that this year — we’ve done it in the past — not sure that’s fair,” Scott said.

Collins made the motion anyway and the board voted in favor to approve all other requests at a reduced percentage. Nonprofits to receive funding include Appalachian Animal Rescue Center, Macon County Arts Council, Community Care Clinic, KIDS Place, Macon County Care Network, Macon County Historical Society Museum, Macon New Beginnings, Read2Me, Scottish Tartans Museum and the Literacy Council.

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