The Lebanon City Council approved its 2021-2022 fiscal year $80 million budget and funds for the design of the future sports complex on Highway 231 during its most recent meeting.

The budget includes a property tax rate reduction in line with increased property values in the city following state-mandated property tax reassessments. The new rate will be around 68 cents, according to Lebanon Finance Director Stuart Lawson. The current rate is 85 cents.

The budget also includes a 1.5 percent pay adjustment for city employees after Lebanon Human Resources Director Sylvia Reichle said a recent pay study showed some city positions were below the average market rate. The city adjusted pay rates based on pay studies in 2016 and 2018.

The budget also includes a change to the city’s “call back” policy adopted by departments that require employees to be on standby at all times in case of emergencies.

The employees receive compensation for working when they are called back when they weren’t scheduled, as well as “call back” pay.

Reichle said the practice currently allows for people to receive an overtime premium earning when no overtime has been worked, which generated an additional $188,000 in additional overtime premiums in 2020.

The change would allow for overtime premium earnings only when overtime is worked.

Lebanon Mayor Rick Bell declined a salary increase for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, keeping it at $112,000. The new pay rate is typically set every four years in conjunction with mayoral elections.

Sports complex

The council also approved $515,000 to go toward the design of the first phase of the future sports complex to be located on Highway 231 just south of Stumpy Lane.

The council’s committal ended a two-year gap between the council’s purchase of 150 acres for the park for more than $2 million and council action. The months between were filled with Lebanon Sports Complex Committee meetings to analyze and decide a layout for the park to recommend to the council.

The pandemic delayed some of those meetings.

“We were not charged with paying for it or anything like that. We don’t have a vote,” sports committee member Rick Smith said. “All we’re doing is recommending what we think will be a good idea for a park.”

Smith said the committee initially received an estimate of $36 million from Nashville engineering and architecture service firm Barge Design Solutions to build the park. The initial plans included soccer, baseball and softball fields, as well as playground and recreation areas, including a walking trail. The group said the estimate is likely below current costs of construction.

The sports complex committee, which shifted to a phased approach to building the complex, narrowed its focus to soccer facilities for the initial phase during its final meeting last month. The sentiment continued during a council’s work session on the complex plans.

“That $36 million park will probably cost between $40-$42 million to build minimum because of increased costs,” said Smith, noting Bell voiced his support for a soccer-driven first phase, which would likely include four grass soccer fields and one turf field.

At the time, Phase I was estimated to cost $6.7 million to $7.5 million.

“The reason for building soccer is pretty simple. I’m sure most of you have been out to the airport on a Saturday and watched them play soccer. There’s 300 cars out there crammed into a small area playing soccer with hundreds of kids, and what’s surrounding them? Airplanes,” Smith said.

James Herron, representing Wilson United Soccer League, said the move to the potential sports complex has benefits beyond safety, noting the league has 1,100 participants for this year’s spring league, and has seen a surge of Mt. Juliet participants.

He also noted the current complex has three fields and two makeshift fields.

“This would help us dramatically. The main thing that would help us is lights,” Herron said. “Where we are we can’t have lights, right now. The ability to have five lit soccer fields allows us to expand and play during the week. We can play Saturday night and Sunday night.”

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