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With 30 more days, Council still stuck on budget

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By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post

After passing a resolution authorizing a continuing appropriation and budget for fiscal year 2008-09 for 30 more days, Lebanon City Council is $527,000 short of balancing next year’s budget.

Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath said that she feels that the process of balancing the budget is moving slowly, but it is moving. However, she does see the urgency.

“If we don’t fix this budget ourselves, the comptroller will come in here and fix it for us,” Warmath said, “and he’s going to make cuts that we don’t want.”

Warmath wants the public to know that the reductions the council is making will be seen in reductions in service. For example, in order to save money, the truck that picks up mulch and leaves from houses in neighborhoods every week would be reduced to only coming around once a month.

“We have got to be realistic,” Warmath said about the cuts needed to balance the budget.

As was the script for these work sessions, the council was very clear on not raising any fees, whereas Mayor Philip Craighead was firm on what has become his platform of no layoffs.

“I admit it,” Craighead said. “I’m being stubborn. I don’t want to see anyone go.”

Craighead’s plan includes a $2.50 per month storm water fee and a garbage fee of $6.50 per month for one can and $5 per month for two cans.

Warmath quoted one of her constituents as saying that “$8 is not much, but it’s a lot to me.” The woman was elderly and on a fixed income.

“He is pretty consistent with his mantra of saving jobs,” Warmath said of the mayor.

Unfortunately, other councilors were not as pleasant about the mayor’s position. Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler and Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston got very heated when Craighead began to talk about using fees to cover the budget shortfall.

“I’m still having to prove myself,” Craighead said in reference to the opinion of him, both from the public and from the council.

There are 27 city employees who could possibly lose their jobs if the council has its way, although, according to Craighead, four of those employees are eligible for retirement and are considering it.

The council looked at several things, including the possibility of using private contractors for the mowing and cleaning of city buildings to save money. Several bids were considered, but the idea is at this point still up in the air.

Another issue is the amount of overtime paid to city employees in several departments, more specifically in the police department. It costs the city nearly $50,000 in overtime pay for police officers who work Slammin’ and Jammin’ as well as the fair, according to Commissioner of Public Safety Billy Weeks.

“It costs about $22,000 (in overtime pay) for the fair alone,” Weeks said. He also told the council that a homicide costs the police department around $20,000 because of marking off crime scenes, blocking traffic, etc., while an investigation is conducted.

The next work session for the budget of fiscal year 2009-2010 will be Wednesday, June 24 at 5 p.m. at Lebanon City Hall.

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