It took only one “no” vote to kill a property tax increase — possibly just temporarily — for Lebanon residents after two council members were absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Joey Carmack cast the lone “no” vote on the ordinance associated with the potential 41-percent property tax increase. The 3-1 vote to approve (Tick Bryan, Camille Burdine and Jeni Lind Brinkman voted “yes”) was not enough because it takes four “yes” votes for an ordinance to pass. Councilors Fred Burton and Chris Crowell both were out of town and did not attend the meeting.
Lebanon City Attorney Andy Wright said that version of the budget ordinance is “dead,” and the new annual budget ordinance would appear on the council agenda at a later date. The public hearing for the new ordinance would need to be publicized before having another council vote, which could come in the form of two special called meetings in order to pass the budget by the July 1 deadline.
The next regular council meeting isn’t scheduled until July 2.
The proposed increase would raise the city’s property tax rate from 60.75 cents to 85.75 cents per $100 of assessed value (25 percent of property value for residential properties). For a home assessed at $150,000, the annual tax would increase about $100.
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said the group started the process with a $2.4 million shortfall, which it was able to reduce to about $1.8 million. He said with the proposed tax increase, and if all revenues for the upcoming fiscal year are accurate, the city could have a $91,000 surplus at the end of the fiscal year.
Several citizens said a property tax increase might deter people from moving to the area, have a detrimental impact on low-income and senior residents and would be a misuse of citizen funds.
Lebanon resident Joe Wauford suggested the city should implement a right-of-way permit to collect fees, similar to Metro Nashville, which has a $100 fee to “more effectively plan, approve, issue permits for, track, and inspect work that is taking place within the Metro right-of-way.”
Ash said he previously spoke with Wauford and passed the suggestion to Lebanon Public Works Director Jeff Baines for exploration.
Ash specifically attributed the potential increase to population growth in Lebanon, which, along with Mt. Juliet and Watertown, made Wilson County the fastest-growing county in the state last year.
The council had previously discussed a 12-cent raise that would cover the need for additional police officers and firefighters, a $6 million radio system for the Lebanon Police Department and other public service needs. The proposed increase would bring in about $1.75 million.
Lebanon Finance Director Stuart Lawson said last month the 12-cent increase would cover the city for the next fiscal year, but would likely need to be revisited next year. He attributed the need for the increase to slow growth in revenue in other areas of the city’s budget, including sales tax.
Wilson County voters rejected a half-cent sales tax increase last year via special referendum. The increase was estimated to bring in about $11.1 million for Wilson County, with Lebanon estimated to receive about $2.7 million annually.
In 2016, the city estimated the cost for a new certified police officer, including salary and benefits, was about $65,000. The same year, the council voted to leave the city’s tax rate at 60.75 cents, which caused an increase in residential and commercial property tax payments with an increase in property values through reappraisal.
The average Lebanon resident paid an additional $40 because of the decision.
The city voted last year to increase building impact fees for multi-family homes, but Lawson said many developers pulled permits and other related materials prior to the council vote in anticipation of the change.