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Council seeking budget info

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However, none of the council members thought it was a good idea to vote on the 29th and instead, voted Tuesday night to continue the current 2010-2011 budget until Sept. 1 at the latest.

“There would be 100 percent ‘no’ (votes) because no one knows enough,” said Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath of the possibility of voting on the budget on June 29.

Wright said the city has to report tax rates to the state by Sept. 1, and the new budget has to be set before then. After the meeting, Craighead said he felt the council will come to an agreement well before that deadline.

Warmath pointed out the council doesn’t have a clear picture of the city’s shortfall and isn’t sure about what they need to do to overcome those deficits. Tuesday night, the council indicated they were struggling with how to give employees raises, but also possibly raise Water & Sewer rates.

“When you vote on something, that tells the people you have a framework for an idea, but we don’t even have a framework,” said Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino. “I think there’s an inconsistency in our message.”

Cesternino and the other councilors said they needed to have more budget meetings before they even considered voting on a budget proposal at first reading. More than one council member indicated they didn’t know the Wednesday budget meeting had been cancelled until Tuesday night’s meeting.

“I don’t know how in the world we can put it on the docket and not have more meetings,” said Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry.

The council is prepared to have a work session on June 29 to discuss the newest budget proposal that is supposed to be given to them on Friday. Before the work session, they will have a special called meeting to vote on second reading to continue the current budget.

The council also deferred an ordinance to approve Water and Sewer rate increases, proposed at 14 percent, which has been discussed at multiple council work sessions.

Commissioner of Public Works Jeff Baines was disappointed in the 5-1 vote to defer the ordinance, with Cesternino opposing the deferral. Baines said with the projects that have been done, and those that still needed to be done to meet state and federal requirements, the increases have to be made sooner rather than later.

Baines presented the council with multiple items at the start of Tuesday night’s meeting that amounted to more dollars spent. Baines said the water treatment facility requires repairs since a lightning strike on June 15 damaged equipment.

“Hopefully it will be insurance-covered,” Baines said of the damage. However, a truck and vacuum pump used by the Public Works Department requires a fix of $11,000 that Baines said was in the current budget and needed to be repaired quickly, noting, “It is worthless without this repair.”

One thing the council seemed confused about was the city’s giving to non-profit organizations such as the Lebanon Senior Citizens’ Center. Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston indicated the city should find other ways to fund those organizations.

He pointed out that $165,000 was budgeted this year to give to the Center and that it’s taken from the budgets of various city departments. The Gas Department reportedly pays 20 percent of the money that goes to the Senior Citizens Center.

“I’m not saying we don’t need to fund it, I think we need to fund it in a different way,” Huddleston said.

With a possible 14 percent Water & Sewer rate increase coming in next year’s budget, Huddleston thought the city was raising rates to give money away to places such as the Senior Citizens Center.

He suggested putting those contributions into the general fund balance instead of taking it from various departments. Craighead replied that by putting contributions in the general fund, you have to raise property taxes to cover those costs due to the city’s current deficit.

Two citizens turned out Tuesday night, one in favor of implementing a garbage fee to help the city cover deficits, and one voicing support of property tax increases. The council indicated they had received many calls from citizens with both points of view.

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

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