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Council to consider 3 options to balance city budget

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The three options Lee presented include property tax increases, sanitation fees or a combination of the two. The first proposal called for a 22-cent increase in property taxes, which Lee said would raise the average homeowner’s taxes by $91.63 annually, or $8 a month.

The second proposal would use the remaining $600,000 from the $1.8 million borrowed last year to chip away at the deficit, and a 15-cent property tax increase. Lee said this option would raise the average homeowner’s taxes by $62.48 a year, or approximately $5 a month. He said a property tax increase of 15 cents would generate approximately $1.2 million.

The third option, Lee said, was the most difficult and least financially sound. That proposal includes the $600,000, a 7-cent property tax increase and an $8 a month sanitation fee.

Lee said the 7-cent tax increase would generate an additional $600,000, leaving the rest of the deficit to be made up by the sanitation fee.

During the work session on Wednesday night, Lee said some councilors preferred a property tax increase, some would rather see a sanitation fee and others want no increases of any kind.

At least one councilor, Ward 3’s Rob Cesternino, said he did not like any of the three proposals because they include property tax increases that he sees as not fixing the overall problem.

"On a property tax increase, if we’re not going to go all-in, then it’s not worth doing," Cesternino said.

He pointed out that in 1992, the property tax rate in Lebanon was 78 cents and is now at 33.5 cents. Cesternino said he would be in favor of simply implementing a 66-cent increase that would put the city’s tax rate up to 99.5 cents, comparable to Gallatin’s rate.

An increase of that size would not only eliminate the deficit, Cesternino said, but would actually give the city a $3 million surplus. He said that money could be used for street paving, building parks and amenities in areas of the city that have none.

He said Ward 6, represented by Councilor Kathy Warmath, has no parks and has many infrastructure needs that aren’t met, but its citizens comprise the largest portion of the city’s property tax base.

Warmath was contacted by The Wilson Post for comment but did not return a call by press time.

Lee said with Lebanon’s deficit, having no increases would make it difficult for the city to adequately provide necessary services because council would be forced to make large budget cuts.

"If you’re going to cut $1.8 million out of this budget, you’re going to have to cut something out," Lee said.

Lee said he was mostly in favor of the first option, citing that it was "the most fiscally sound" of all three. He pointed out that Craighead seemed to be leaning toward the second option.

"Either of the first two is reasonable to me," Lee noted.

Cesternino also pointed out he was opposed to property tax increases as long as the budget included a one-step raise for all city employees, which he did not think was fair.

He said he couldn’t see the city doing both because many residents in Lebanon haven’t had a raise in their private-sector jobs, and they would be asked to pay more to the city to help city employees obtain a raise.

"I am 100 percent again a property tax increase that includes raises for the employees, and I love the employees," Cesternino said.

He did note the council has made progress on several issues, such as how to help the Jimmy Floyd Family Center operate without losing money. Cesternino said the council agreed to increase the Center’s membership fee for residents inside the city by $50 and for those not inside the city by $60 over the next three years.

These increases would allow the Center to break even and pay its mortgage at the same time, which was a big issue for Cesternino.

Lee said he and Craighead are working to find some areas where the council’s various viewpoints can meet together and get at least four votes to approve the budget on first reading. The budget has to pass a total of three readings and can be amended up until the final third vote is cast.

Cesternino said if a trash fee is used, he would prefer seeing a $15 fee implemented with no property tax increases on top of that. He said that fee would be enough to clear the deficit.

As for the three options presented by Lee during Wednesday night’s meeting, and assuming one of those options will be in the Council’s Tuesday night agenda, Cesternino said, "I will not vote for any of them."

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

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