The Town of Frankford’s usual budget process was upended two weeks ago when Police Chief Laurence Corrigan told the town council he needed to have more help in his fledgling department.
Corrigan went so far as to say, at the budget meeting on Thursday, May 27, that if he didn’t get help, he would tender his resignation.
So, at the next town council meeting, June 7, Town Treasurer John Wright made a presentation on the outlook for the Town’s 2022-fiscal-year budget, taking into account the stipulations the chief had given the council.
As of the June 7 meeting, the Town’s projected expenses for the coming fiscal year stand at $468,000, with revenues expected to be $403,500, according to Wright, which puts the Town nearly $65,000 in the red. Increased expenses in several areas, including employee costs and postage costs, and decreased revenues in areas such as real estate transfer tax, police fines and building permit fees, account for the difference, Wright said.
Several areas of the budget, including ditch repairs and funding for Envision Frankford — which sponsors town activities throughout the year — have seen cuts this year.
One major question remaining before the town council votes on the 2022 budget is how to fund the two additional part-time police officers Corrigan asked for and received the council’s informal blessing for at the May 27 meeting. The two officers would nearly double the department’s slice of the budget, to about $200,000.
Raising property taxes is one way the council is considering funding the expansion of the police department. Town Council President Greg Welch said the council will not raise taxes this year, but will fund the additional officers with reserve funds generated by the sale of the Town’s water plant to Artesian Water Co. two years ago, for $3.6 million.
Wright said the Town would have to raise property taxes from $2.50 per $100 of assessed value to $3.85 per $100 of assessed value to balance the proposed budget. He told those at the meeting that of Sussex County towns still using the County’s 1976 assessment figures, only Georgetown has a higher tax rate, at $3.17 per $100 of assessed value.
He said that, with the Town’s current spending rate, without raising taxes, the Town would use up its reserve fund in 40 years.
One property owner, Tony Morgan, told the council that he “would be willing to pay more, because I’d really like my neighbors to feel safe. He said he feels the police department needs to be supported in order to continue serving the community. “The last two chiefs here didn’t get much help,” he said.
He pointed to the Town’s past difficulties with keeping a police force going, saying, “There are things we keep doing over and over again, and we keep getting the same results. It’s important,” Morgan said, “that we have the police.”
Clayton Street resident Frank Porcelli said, “I’d be willing to give more money” through taxes to support the police department. “I’m more than a little concerned,” he said. “Somebody was shot and killed a block and a half from my home,” he added, referring to last month’s fatal shooting on Kauffman Lane, which has yet to yield an arrest.
Wright said the Town does not currently have a “guiding principle” on spending its reserves, which would help to craft a long-term budget strategy. He also said the Town could perhaps earn more money on its reserves than the current 1 percent interest it receives.
“So we have five people deciding how to spend $3.6 million,” Porcelli said, to which Welch responded that he thinks the council “is really not that hardline,” and that “We listen to the people.”
The council is hoping to hear thoughts of more residents at a budget meeting scheduled for Thursday, June 17, at 7 p.m. The council agreed at the June 7 meeting to advertise the meeting through bilingual flyers — an idea urged by Frankford Public Library Adult & Teen Coordinator Bonnie Elliott, who said it is extremely important to seek input from the town’s Latino residents.
Frankford Police Chief Laurence Corrigan has emphasized in recent weeks that Frankford’s Latino residents are being targeted in crimes such as robberies and thefts. He has worked with the library’s assistant director, Ray Rojas, to reach out to Latino residents with public-safety messages.
Porcelli asked the council what the way forward is for “some sort of permanent solution” to police funding issues, to which Wright responded with his own question: “What amount of risk is acceptable for someone else’s money?”