The Lebanon City Council recently discussed a potential property tax increase for residents due to rapid growth in the area.
The council discussed a 12-cent raise in property taxes that would cover the cost of additional police officers and firefighters, as well as to cover a $6 million radio system for the Lebanon Police Department. The increase would bring in about $1.4 million for the city.
The council will meet in several more work sessions to discuss the budget prior to an official vote.
Lebanon Finance Director Stuart Lawson said the increase would cover the city for the next fiscal year, but would likely need to be revisited next year, while attributing the need for the increase to slow growth in revenue in other areas of the city’s budget, including sales tax.
“We’re not seeing those huge jumps anymore,” Lawson said.
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.
Lawson said the city was lucky and did not have a health insurance coverage cost increase for its employees this year, which he said he couldn’t guarantee would happen again next year.
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said the city has not raised its property tax rate since 2013, and has added several additional personnel due to population growth. Most recently, the city added a dozen firefighters and several police officers.
“They didn’t all go on the budget at the same time. This year, they all will go on at the same time. That’s our biggest expense — personnel,” Ash said.
In 2016, the city estimated the cost for a new certified police officer, including salary and benefits, was about $65,000.
The council also discussed a potential change that would require customers to pay a monthly sanitation fee of $11 per can, which could likely be added to the monthly utility bill. Customers who participate in the city’s recycling program would have that fee reduced to $9 a month per can.
“I have a hard time doing both,” Councilor Joey Carmack said of the potential increases.
Lawson said a 25-cent tax increase would likely be needed to cover costs without the implementation of the sanitation fee.
“We can’t expect to keep getting these services, and get our sidewalks that they obviously want, and roads. We’re going to have to raise taxes, and we’re going to have to do things similar to cities our size. It’s unfortunate,” Councilor Camille Burdine said.
“Gallatin has a higher property tax rate, and they also have a sanitation fee,” Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman said. “All of these surrounding communities, there’s not one that’s like us that has a property tax where we’re at and provides trash service. That’s telling to me.”
The city voted last year to increase building impact fees for multi-family homes, but Lawson said many developers pulled permits prior to the council vote in anticipation of the change.
Some councilors have also been hesitant to place emphasis on impact fees because of the belief the growth in the city would eventually stall.