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Council finally approves 2011-2012 budget

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By PATRICK HALL, The Wilson Post
After months of back-and-forth debate and a handful of proposals, Lebanon City Council passed a $19.95 million budget for fiscal year 2011-2012 on third and final reading Tuesday night during the regular meeting.

An amendment was offered to remove fees charged for children playing sports at city facilities in Lebanon. The revenue from the fees totaled around $33,000 next year. The council unanimously agreed the fees had a minimal impact on the budget and could be scrapped.

The $33,000 wouldnt be a big deal anyway, said Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath.

The fees would have been $15 for kids in baseball, softball and soccer leagues such as the Kiwanis, Rotary and Lions Club leagues where participants are not charged to play by the respective civic clubs. The fee would also have applied to leagues such as girls softball where participants already pay a fee to participate.

Prior to the meeting, M.F. Donnell, president of the Lebanon Rotary Baseball league, spoke to the council during a public hearing held concerning the budget. Donnell asked the council to withdraw the fees from its budget.

If this passes it will put a burden on the Rotary Club, Donnell said.

He pointed out the club would not require families to pay the $15 for their children to participate and said the club would instead pay the city for each player next spring.

The City of Lebanon operates two sports leagues, Junior Pro Football and Junior Pro Basketball and charges $40 for each player in football and $30 for each player in basketball. The money goes to pay for equipment and uniforms for each participant.

Donnell said the clubs that run other sports leagues that do not charge fees cover those costs themselves and give children a chance to play for free.

Our organization and others provide that overhead so that children can play baseball for free, Donnell said.

The city maintains the baseball and softball fields where these leagues play and William Porter, recreation director for the city, said they do not charge the clubs for those services, but at times the clubs will buy dirt or other items for the fields.

They go out and try to get businesses in the community to help with those costs, Porter said.

He pointed out there are other civic clubs and local organizations that have donated money, materials and work-in-kind to help improve the facilities used by the civic groups.

Donnell said the Rotary Club polled participants in last years baseball league and said 67 percent of the parents would rather have fund raisers than pay a fee to help the club with costs. He noted the club has one large fund raiser every year for the baseball league.

I think the kids should get a break, said Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino. He added that he would make a motion to withdraw the fee but pointed out he was going to vote no for the budget so he recommended another councilor make the motion.

Cesternino later said he opposed the budget proposal because it does not generate enough revenue for the city to provide necessary services. He felt the city should raise property taxes to allow them to pave roads among other things.

We dont have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem, he said.

Also opposed to the budget was Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry, who has also been supportive of a property tax increase for some time. He said an earlier proposal of a 15 cent tax increase would have been satisfactory for him.

Ive felt for a number of years now that we need a property tax increase, he said.

Warmath pointed out that Russell Lee, commissioner of finance and revenue, who was absent from the meeting, had previously told the council the citys sales tax collections were $700,000 more than anticipated.

That increase in revenue would drop the amount taken from the Rainy Day Fund to about $600,000, according to Cesternino. Warmath also noted the increased sales tax revenue made the sports fees insignificant in next years budget.

The council approved the budget on third and final reading by a vote of 4-2 with Cesternino and Barry voting no.

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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