By Brian Brock
This is the first in a series about our local government. Later installments will cover the Justice of the Peace, Assessor, the Fire Departments, the Board of Education, and the Village Board.
I. EXECUTIVE AND LEGISLATIVE BRANCHES
Of all the levels of our country’s government, it is at the local level that you can have the greatest effect with the least amount of effort. Monthly, you can observe and influence the operation of local government with only a short drive from home. Every other year, you can vote for most officials. You can also place a candidate or a law on the ballot with a few tens or hundreds of signatures.
Conversely, local government can have the greatest effect on you, both taking and giving. Local government takes through real estate taxes; if you fail to pay, you will loose your property. But local government gives by educating children, maintaining and plowing roads, responding to emergencies, regulating development and construction, dispensing justice, keeping records, and controlling animals. In Treadwell, it even provides for power and water.
From the first official town meeting in Franklin in 1793, there has been a Supervisor, a Town Clerk, Assessors, Tax Collectors, and one or more Commissioners of High Ways, later called Superintendent of Highways. Together these officials make up the executive branch of Town government.
The legislative branch is the Town Council, formed to assist the Supervisor. Early on, the Town Council comprised four Justices of the Peace. Starting in the mid-1950s, the number of Justices was reduced one by one and a Councilman filled each vacancy. Finally in 1980, the one remaining Justice on the council was replaced, thus separating the legislative and judicial branches of government.
Today our Town Council manages a $1.5 million annual budget, employing approximately a dozen full time and dozens of part time workers. The Council is responsible for passing laws and ordinances, drawing-up the annual budget, and administering Town government. The Town Council was originally called the Town Board and still is informally known as such. Councilmen are known as Members of the Board.
The Town Supervisor and four councilmen constitute our modern Town Council. These are part time, paid positions. Our officials are a comparative bargain, with salaries that are among the lowest in Delaware County. The Supervisor is elected for a term of two years. The Councilmen are elected for a term of four years, two one year and then the others two years later.
There are less than 1500 voters registered in Franklin, with 30 to 60% voting. We vote in three districts: two at the Town Garage just outside the Village of Franklin, and one at the New School in Treadwell.
Our supervisor and councilmen represent the whole town at large rather than a specific district within Franklin. The Supervisor also represents our Town on the Delaware County Board of Supervisors.
Councilmen typically serve for a term or three, but our present Supervisor, Don Smith, is completing his 30th year. Throughout the 1800’s, Supervisors served for a year or two, but starting in the early 1900’s, their terms stretched beyond a decade.
If a councilman cannot finish his term, the Board appoints a replacement for the remainder of that year. Any resident citizen who is over 18 years of age and not a felon can run for election to the Council.
To get your name on the November ballot as an Independent, you must file a petition with valid signatures totaling more than 5% of Franklin residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election. Currently, this is only 42 people.
Meetings of our Town Council have been held on Tuesdays since 1793. Currently they are on the second Tuesday of the month, except when there is a conflict, such as with Delaware County Fair Week or Election Day. (Also typically there is a second meeting in late December and none in January.) Notices of time and place of meetings should be posted and published at least three days before, but no agenda of meetings is available to the public beforehand. There must be a quorum of three of the five members to convene.
Meetings are generally open to the public, as required by the New York State Open Meetings Law, although the Council may go into executive (private) session for part of the meeting to discuss certain subjects, including personnel, negotiations, litigations, or criminal matters. Anyone present may raise a matter of concern. Meeting are sparsely attended, generally by only one or two residents bringing a particular concern before the Council. Patty Lollot from the Walton Reporter also attends, as it is the official newspaper of the Town and prints a summary of the meeting the following week.
Minutes of the meetings, as recorded by the Town Clerk and approved by the Council, are on file in the Town Hall, 554 Main Street. Minutes from 1793 to 1994 (handwritten until 1961) are on microfilm at the Franklin Free Library, 334 Main Street.
Local laws are also passed by our Council, one or two a year. Most laws are passed unanimously, although only three votes are required. There must be a public hearing before voting on a law, which is usually held before the monthly meeting. (Like other public meetings, notice must be posted and published, but 5 days ahead.)
Copies of the proposed law should be available before the hearing at the Town Clerk’s office. Over the last 25 years, Franklin has added 13 laws and ordinances. These are on record in our Town Hall and with the State Records and Law Bureau, which publishes an annual compilation.
This year the Council has passes two laws: Local Law #1, the Wind Energy Facility Law, and Local Law #2, for Administration and Enforcement of N YS Uniform Fire Prevention and Building Codes. Local laws can also be enacted drectly by the voters through petition – a right not available to us in County, State, or Federal government.
To put the question of a proposed law on the ballot, first a petition must be signed by adult citizens whose primary residence is Franklin. (The number of signatures needed is 25% of the number of Franklin voters in the last gubernatorial election, or currently 212 people.) In late August or early September, after the petition is submitted to the Town Clerk, if any of the signatures are challenged, then the Supreme Court Justice in Delhi must rule on them. Finally, in November, a majority of the votes must be in the affirmative. If the question is agreed on, the Clerk records it as a Local Law.
This year, there was Local Option Question #1: Selling alcoholic beverages to be consumed on the premises where sold. This proposition was defeated 260 to 202.
The Town budget runs for the calendar year January 1st to December 31st. The Town Supervisor, who is also the appointed Fiscal Officer of Franklin, starts work in the fall – together with the Deputy Fiscal Officer – on next year’s proposed budget. The Council reviews and amends this budget in October. After the pulbic meeting in November, the budget is further amended and accepted.
The budget is financed mostly by property tax, but in a typical year there are also a few hundred thousand dollars of assorted fees, fines, sales, grants, and interest.
Once the estimated appropriations (costs) for the year are totaled and estimated revenues and any balances from last year are subtracted, the remainder is what must be raised by the property tax. This remainder is divided by the total assessed value of property in Franklin to provide the tax rate for the year. Copies of the budget are available from the Town Clerk.
The duties of Town Clerk, Tax Collector, Registrar of Vital Statistics, and Records Management Officer are presently fulfilled by one person. (This position was the first in our Town to be held by a woman, starting in 1986.)
The Clerk records the happenings of Town and government. Clerk and Collector comprise a single elected position with a two year term. Registrar and Officer are appointed positions. The Town Clerk posts and publishes notices before Town Council meetings, takes minutes during meetings, and files minutes for a permanent record of proceedings. She issues handicapped parking permits and licenses for hunting or for dogs.
As Tax Collector, she collects the Town property tax. The bills are calculated and sent by the County Treasurer, but the Clerk collects the payments and accounts for the funds. After the deadline for payment, she forwards the accounting to the County along with the list of delinquencies.
As Registrar, she records births and deaths in Franklin and issues certificates. She also issues marriage licenses, several each year, and forwards the records to New York State Department of Health. These licenses are good for marrying anywhere in New York State except for New York City.
As Records Management Officer, she handles requests under the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). Currently, office hours are Monday and Tuesday mornings 8:30 to 11:00 and Wednesday and Friday evenings from 6:00 to 8:00.
Other positions in our local government that the Council administers and finances include: Deputy Town Clerk, Deputy Fiscal Officer, Code Enforcement Officer, Assessor, Town Attorney, Treadwell Water Operator, Dog Enumerator, Health Officer, and Historian.
Positions that were once filled but no longer exist include: Constables, Sealer of Weights and Measures, Fence Viewers, and Poor Masters a.k.a. Overseers of the Poor. The Council also appoints and finances the members of boards of Planning (5 members), Zoning Appeals (3 members), and Assessment Review (3 members). Appointments are made for the next year at the Annual Meeting in late December. At times it is hard to fill these part time and not highly paid positions.
The Council also provides some of the finances for the Franklin and Treadwell Fire District, Town Justice, Board of Elections, the smaller cemeteries, the Delaware County Historical Association and the Franklin Free Library, although it has no oversight. Treadwell is a hamlet and unlike the Village of Franklin, it is not incorporated with its own government. So the Town administers the hamlet’s street lights and water system, billing the residents through fees and taxes.
New York is a “home rule” state, which means that many important decisions are taken at the locl level. The members of the Town Council welcome interested citizens at their meetings, and try to answer their concerns. Try participating more in the process. You may be happier with the results, and help to renew our democracy.