Franklin transfers public assistance role to Sussex County

| 21 Feb 2012 | 10:49

    FRANKLIN-For many years, the local assistance board has been there to help the borough's neediest in times of financial difficulties. But as so many other municipalities have done - or are in the process of doing - Franklin is taking the steps necessary to abolish its local board and transfer those tasks to the county's welfare department. Although the number of Franklin residents who received help from the borough's assistance board varied year by year, Borough Chief Financial Officer Grant Rome said the annual funding could have been in neighborhood of $100,000. The county already has picked up Franklin's case load, according to one borough official. The borough council — on first reading Aug. 10 — voted to make the board's termination official. The second and final reading is expected to be approved when the council meets again in September. "Each town has subsequently sent everything over to the county," explained former borough clerk Rachel Heath, who also served as board director in Franklin for the past 15 years. "We kept it here, not because the county didn't do their job, but because people had the comfort of going to the town." Neighboring Hamburg already has abolished its local assistance board as well, one borough official there confirmed. Kathy Garrett, who is both assistant borough clerk and welfare director, also had served as Hamburg's board director. Heath said that in order to receive local aid, an applicant generally had to be over the age of 18 without any responsibility of "minor children." And if the applicant was employed, his/her wages had to be no better than about $100 a month. If the applicant did have custody of minor children, then the case would have been referred to the county instead, Heath added. "(It) was mandated by the state," Heath said. "Ultimately, all the reports had to be sent to the state for reimbursement to the municipality." The state funded all grants to the recipients, Heath said, but the borough itself was responsible for paying the director's salary, as well as any expenses incurred. Only the director received compensation. However, Franklin had its share of volunteers, including Cathy Gleason, who served for only about a year. Many assumed that the winter months would have been the busiest time for assistance boards, due to holiday expenses and other factors that would include heating costs. But Gleason, who had kind words for Heath, gave a surprising response. "We thought that, too, but for some reason last summer we had a lot of cases," she said. "I think we've noticed there was a big increase in the last couple of months." Heath would generally do much of the legwork in preparing applicants for help, including the necessary interviews, Gleason said. The former borough clerk would also make some preliminary decisions and then consult with the board before acting, she added. Heath also said that if a woman applicant was pregnant, she would go the local board for help, but the county would later take over once the child was born. Many of the applicants also qualified for food stamps, Heath said, something that the county would also deal with, as it does already. Gleason and others are confident the county will do a good job of absorbing Franklin's case load, but there is still the undeniable factor that a part of borough history is passing. "Oh, definitely," Heath agreed. "But all things considered, I guess it was a good move. C'est la vie.It was a good program. It still is. It's still there, run by the county."