Mayor: Proposed 2009-2010 budget has been 'cut beyond the bone'

To the Editor:

The City of Lebanon is facing the same budget problems that many other governments, businesses and individuals are facing today due to the economy. Many people are telling me, they do not want to see a major reduction in their services, but they do want to see the City of Lebanon continue to move positively forward.

I want to let everyone know that the City of Lebanon department heads, myself and Council are working hard to present the most efficient budget possible and still maintain city services. Even though my opinion differs from the Council members’, everyone’s concern is for the future of Lebanon.

Before asking for any increases, I wanted to show that the reductions had been made. We have drastically reduced expenses and lowered the budget by over $2 million from last year’s General Fund Budget. We have looked for every opportunity to cut even small items that will cumulatively add up to big savings. We are running a tighter ship. We had numerous positions that were already vacated and not filled. Instead of filling these vacant positions, we’ve asked the present employees to absorb these responsibilities. 

In addition to these cuts, the City Council has requested a reduction in force, which means cutting more employees (possibly 27). I don’t want anyone to think that all functions in all departments will be accomplished at the same level of service that we have today. With fewer employees, that is not possible.  There will be reduced services, but we are working internally to minimize any negative impact to our citizens as a result of a reduction in force. 

Our department heads have examined their department’s operations and identified some key positions that they believe are needed to maintain essential operations. They also identified expense reductions within the General Fund that could pay the salaries and benefits for these positions with no negative effect on the General Fund spending.

The city cannot operate efficiently with only one Building Inspector – if this employee is sick or on vacation, does the city slow down growth and flow of sales tax? We cannot allow an anchor to continue to slow us down. 

We need to continue our federally mandated Stormwater Program. Any budget savings by the elimination of a Stormwater Inspector position could quickly be lost if we are fined for failure to follow and enforce all Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation (TDEC) regulations. TDEC also has the authority to place a moratorium on issuance of construction permits for any and all development in the community. This would eliminate new sales tax and increased property tax revenues.

A company without a Human Resource Director sets itself on a collision course – they are flying naked. Having an effective Human Resource Director will save our city thousands of dollars yearly by helping our department heads properly test, certify, train, hire and evaluate our staff while monitoring benefits and programs – there is more to it than taking applications and hiring or firing. A Human Resource Director’s job is not only to protect the employees but to protect the city against potential litigation. With close to 400 employees, we should not be flying naked.

I can defend and support the need for all 27 positions. As the budget now stands, I do not have the funds to support these positions. Without additional revenues, the loss of these jobs will affect the services and quality of life in Lebanon. Affected will be parks and recreation, economic development, senior citizens, the Floyd Center, chipper service, spring cleanup, leaf pick-up, the response time to citizens’ needs – it takes manpower to provide these services. I feel that we have cut this budget beyond the bone. We will not be a good corporate member of our own city.

This budget process has been hard on all of us; our department heads, employees, the City Council – and the community. We need to remember that it is especially difficult on the employees who may lose their jobs. Hopefully, we are nearing completion of this lengthy and difficult task. It is my desire that as we complete this budget, we will work together to be progressive, not regressive, and not only meet our current needs, but also prepare our city to move forward in the future.

Mayor Philip CraigheadCity of Lebanon

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