Council nods consulting position for Weeks; passes budget on first reading

As approved, Weeks as a consultant would be paid $35,000 for the six-month period he serves.    There was some confusion expressed by Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler regarding the position of Lebanon Police chief as Buhler asked the office’s current occupant, Chief Scott Bowen, if he would accept a permanent position as grant writer for the City of Lebanon. Bowen, however, told the councilor he would not accept the position. Bowen said he preferred to remain as police chief.    Bowen had been working under Mayor Philip Craighead as a grant writer on a temporary basis and had previously agreed to a pay cut of some $9,000 from his salary as police chief, making his new salary $61,000 as grant writer.    Buhler moved to set the grant writer’s salary at $40,000, but then accepted an amendment from Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer to reduce it further to $35,000. Council approved the new amended salary unanimously.    In other business, council approved on first reading the proposed 2010-2011 budget of $19.9 million during Tuesday’s meeting. Revenues are projected at more than $18 million. The budget requires passage on three readings and a public hearing before it becomes final.    Council also defeated a motion by Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry to raise the city’s property tax rate from its current 33.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to 39.5 cents, an increase of 6 cents.    Barry said the additional 6 cents would be used to replenish funds taken from a reserve of $9 million that resulted from the sale of the city’s Electric Department a number of years ago to Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation. The councilor added that “when and only when” the reserve was returned to $9 million, the additional 6 cents would then be used in the General Fund of the budget.     Farmer seconded Barry’s motion for discussion, but Farmer and the other councilors voted against its passage 5-1.    The city’s last property tax rate increase was in 1992.    Shortly after the meeting, Farmer discussed his approach to saving money for the city through a general review of how funds are spent.    He noted that within the Lebanon Police Department there was a captain and a captain investigator. Farmer said he would liked to see the two positions combined while promoting one of the 13 detectives to lead or lieutenant detective thus eliminating what he called “too many chiefs, not enough Indians.”  Another idea, Farmer said, included another combination, this time with codes. There are two codes; one is Building Codes under the Public Works Department while the other is Code Enforcement which is under the LPD. Combining both codes divisions would eliminate one manager and save $38,960. Overall, he said, these two suggestions alone would save approximately $100,000. “Unfortunately, top heavy management does not want to look at job cuts, no matter how much it would save us in the long run,” Farmer said. “With a $1.8 million gap in the budget, it seems we are borrowing our way into prosperity.”