Franklin Mayor Ken Moore gave his annual State of the City address virtually this year, focusing on Franklin during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The mayor and City Administrator Eric Stuckey kicked off the address Friday with a commendation of the community’s response during this difficult time, praising Williamson County Schools and the Franklin Special School District for their provision of laptops for students and meals for families; GraceWorks Ministries, United Way, One Generation Away and other nonprofits for their food distribution efforts; neighborhoods for their birthday parades and mask sewing teams; and churches, restaurants and businesses for adapting to local and state safety guidelines.
The city also announced Franklin is a finalist for the National Civic League’s All-America City award.
Moore recapped the recent work of his Find Hope Franklin initiative, sharing the mental health resource website that he and his blue-ribbon mental health panel launched last month. He said the city received a grant to conduct free question-persuade-refer (QPR) training for residents. Two training sessions will take place on Wednesday, May 20, and residents can register at eventbrite.com/e/franklin-tomorrow-tickets-103956344224.
Moore and Stuckey then discussed the economic effects of the current pandemic and how it has affected and will continue to affect Franklin. The two welcomed Matt Largen, president and CEO of Williamson, Inc., and Ellie Westman Chin, president and CEO of Visit Franklin, to give insight into the business and tourism sectors in Franklin and Williamson County.
Largen said at the beginning of the outbreak in Williamson County, the chamber reached out to its members and asked how it was doing and how it could help. The chamber also designated one member of its team — Kel McDowell, the director of government affairs — as a Small Business Administration loan case worker for Williamson, Inc. members, helping businesses navigate the process of applying for the Paycheck Protection Program.
“Businesses across Williamson County and Franklin did a pretty good job receiving this money, especially the small businesses,” Largen said. “The average award, we learned, was about $100,000 and it ranged anywhere between $8 million and about $5,000.”
Westman Chin shared the major impact the virus has had on Williamson County’s tourism industry. However, she said during this difficult time for the hospitality industry, she has been encouraged by how these businesses have continued to serve the community.
“What a wonderful thing that they’re in such a difficult shape right now with their employees being laid off and so forth, but they still were willing to step up and help,” she said.
She added Visit Franklin, the convention and visitor's bureau for Williamson County, will kick off its first phase of COVID-19 marketing in the upcoming week, asking locals to take a staycation.
“We’ve all been home for a while. You know what? Book a hotel room, and go out, and have a weekend away with your family or your friend or whomever,” she said. “Go out to dinner, maybe go outward to Carton or one of our distilleries and take a tour.”
Stuckey gave an overview of how the city has adjusted its plans due to the pandemic, sharing that this year’s drafted budget represents a 10.5% reduction over last year’s budget. The city will use some of its reserves and maintain essential services with no city layoffs, and it will also maintain its current property tax rate and will not increase any fees.
Additionally, the city shared several capital projects will continue amid the pandemic, including improvements to Franklin Road and Highway 96 West, the extension of Mack Hatcher, the construction of a new wastewater plant and Fire Station 7, and the creation of new sports fields on Franklin Special School District property in partnership with the district and mountain bike trails in Cool Springs.
Stuckey said the budget will likely be updated as the year goes on and the pandemic’s effects become clearer.
Finally, Moore and Stuckey spoke with Williamson County Health Director Cathy Montgomery about the state of the virus in the county. Montgomery shared the county health department has conducted over 5,000 COVID-19 tests and continues to test anyone who wants to be tested. She said there is not yet any word from the state on the availability of antibody tests.
“I’m truly amazed how our city and our community have come together in this very difficult time,” Moore said. “We are glad we could bring this to you virtually and highlight the great work the city is doing and going to continue to do during this pandemic.”