Two sides face-off on city budget

By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post           As the holiday weekend nears, the City of Lebanon finds itself still without an approved budget for the new fiscal year.          Although the process is now more than a month late, there has been progress made but by no means is the budget issue resolved, with $519,000 still needed to balance the budget as of June 24.

Several council members have indicated that they believe the work sessions they have been attending on Wednesday nights for the past few weeks are becoming tiresome and pointless because of “impediments.”           “If I’m sitting up here (on the council), I’m not going to not do a budget,” said Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath. “It’s not in my nature; but what is in my nature is if there is an impediment to remove it because this body can do whatever it wants to do.”

Warmath made her statement at the Wednesday, June 24 work session which had been canceled that afternoon by Mayor Philip Craighead but later was put back on by the council. Craighead did not attend the meeting and neither did Ward 4 Councilor Joe Hayes.          Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler said at the same meeting that the mayor and the department heads “need to put a budget together without sanitation fees, property taxes or storm water (fees).”           There are essentially two sides to the budget issue.

Craighead argues that enough is enough with respect to cuts in city services, city employees and other eliminations from the budget.

The other side, a collection of city council members, believes there are still more cuts to be made.

Much of the controversy surrounding a large group of the jobs being called for elimination by city councilors stems from what the mayor and others believe are hard feelings from an election last November in which Craighead defeated Ward 3 City Councilor William Farmer.

Several on the list provided by Farmer and other council members to lose their jobs in order to balance the budget were vocal supporters of the Craighead campaign.

Two high profile employees on that list are Sue Akins Siens and Bill Durham. Siens’ title is City Liaison. Her duties with the city are contained primarily in the areas ofbusiness and industrial recruiting. Durham is the Director of Human Resources, the office that oversees personnel. The city council wants to abolish both positions and dismiss both employees.           Craighead is defending both saying that Siens has been responsible for much of the retail growth the city has realized for the past several years, and he said it is unreasonable to think that an organization, whether it be a city government or a commercial business with as many as 400 employees, can operate without a director of human resources.          While Craighead is suggesting a number of payroll cuts in order to meet the demand for the city to have a balanced budget, he is also calling for certain minimum fees to be placed on some city services.           Farmer and other members of the council want to eliminate employees but they also want to make a series of other cuts, some of which include a $100,000 slash to the city’s senior citizens center; annual payments to the Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce for tourism ($5,000), Christmas ($2,500); and reduce the City Beautification Committee budget from $5,000 to $500.           Farmer also suggested increasing fees at the Jimmy Floyd Family Center and increasing the rental fees for pavilions at the Don Fox Park by 50 percent gaining an estimated $3,000 for the city budget.           All of Farmer’s 17 proposals add up to $407,800, leaving $111,200 still needed to balance the budget. Other than his list of cuts, Farmer suggested charging $2 per person to use the Don Fox wading pool as well as reducing all General Fund capital to zero, saving over $55,000.            When asked about the cut to the Senior Citizens’ Center, Farmer suggested adding a $2 user fee to help with the center’s funding. He cited a letter to the editor from Beulah Garrett, a Lebanon senior citizen, which put average attendance at the center for the month of May 2009 at 259 persons per day.          Using this figure combined with the proposed $2 per use fee, the center could bring in approximately $134,680 to offset the funding shortfall. The SCC board would need to exempt those seniors who would be unable to pay.           The council’s next scheduled meeting is set for 6 p.m., Tuesday, July 7. Another work session on the budget is to be held at 5 p.m., Wednesday, July 8.