By CONNIE ESHThe Wilson Post
Lebanon City Council authorized City Attorney Andy Wright to sue Dell for back taxes if he decides that is necessary at the regular meeting Tuesday night.
The move came after Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer told members that Dell apparently plans to move its entire Wilson County operation out of the country. Farmer said since Dell had been offered a contract to exempt the company from ad valorum taxes for 40 years, moving out after nine years constitutes a breach of contract.
He said if Dell doesn’t agree to pay property taxes of more than $800,000 for the nine years they were in Lebanon, Wright should file suit and ask the court to place a tax lien on the property, preventing Dell from selling it until the taxes are paid.
Since the Wilson County Industrial Board actually owns the land Dell’s building is on, Wright said the suit would have to include the board. Dell’s agreement with the IDB calls for the company to lease the land. Dell can, however, sublet or sell the building and the business to another company, Wright said.
All members of the council also expressed their concerns about how the city budget is being handled. All six said they had been getting calls and e-mails from city employees who are concerned about being laid off, and from city taxpayers who don’t want additional taxes or fees.
Ward 1 Councilor Alex Buhler started the discussion by offering a list of things he would and would not consider doing.
“I will not vote to raise taxes or add garbage fees,” he said. “Second, I want it made clear that city council is not planning to lay off employees. We are trying to save jobs.”
He then told the council he wants to eliminate all overtime from the budget, stop hiring part-time people, park as many city vehicles as possible and freeze all travel. He said to do these things, the council needs information from Commissioner of Finance Russell Lee that he has not yet received.
Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston spoke in support of Buhler. He pointed out that he works for a company where more than 200 people have been laid off in the past two years.
“Added taxes would go to people who are out of work,” he said. “Tomorrow night I will ask city council to cut jobs that are a waste. I’ll have a list for you tomorrow night.”
He also asked Mayor Philip Craighead why he was meeting with city employees in the middle of the budget process, rather than waiting until it is approved by the council.
“We (the council and mayor) should all sit down at the table and try to get a budget,” he said. “When you start pointing fingers, that’s not right.”
Farmer pointed out that it is only 28 days until the close of the current budget. He said last year at this time, the council had almost worked out a budget.
“You (Craighead and Lee) keep going back and forth,” he said. “If you keep coming back with the same stuff, it won’t work.”
Farmer then made a motion requesting Commissioner of Public Works Jeff Baines to get bids for mowing around City Hall, the Jimmy Floyd Family Center and in Don Fox Park. As a second part of the motion, Baines is to get bids for cleaning City Hall, the Gas Department, the Police Department, the Public Works building and the Floyd Center. Currently, city employees do all mowing and cleaning.
Also to be included in the bidding would be an hourly rate for additional mowing if needed. The council voted unanimously to support his motion.
Ward 4 Councilor Joe Hayes also supported the position of the other councilors. He said getting rid of waste in city government is vital with the economy in the shape it is now.
“I don’t want to put some of our lower-paid employees in a position of not being able to buy groceries or medicine they need,” he said. “I don’t want these little individuals to suffer.”
Hayes also said while he doesn’t know if it’s legal or not, he’s carrying a camera in his car and when he sees employees wasting time or city vehicles where they shouldn’t be, he’s going to take pictures to prove what’s happening.
Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry said he has been listening to all of the concerns about waste and assumes there is some waste that needs to be eliminated.
“We eliminated some last year, and I expect we will need to do more this year,” he said.
Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath said she basically wanted to echo what the others had said. “I’ve had calls, too, saying no new taxes.”
But she added that she is aware that Craighead had “got left with the short end of the stick.
“Some sacred cows will get addressed this year,” she said. “Stay tuned. This is not over.”
In other business, Craighead announced the city will be doing a Sinking Creek clean-up on Saturday, June 13, starting at 9 a.m. He said volunteers should meet at the Floyd Center’s family pavilion.
The city will be providing gloves, bags and T-shirts. Volunteers should bring reaching tools, drinking water and friends. Lunch will be provided by John Dewaal and Associates.
The council also approved, on second reading, payment in lieu of sidewalks for the street-side area of Callis Hills Apartments. City Planner Magi Tilton said the development would still have all the required internal sidewalks.
The council accepted the bids for weekly uniform rental and bids to replace a compressor, blower wheel and other items to repair a second compressor at the Floyd Center.
Also approved, on first reading, was an ordinance to rescind the agreement to lease property behind the Coffee Connection. The property originally was leased for parking when City Hall was located nearby.
The council approved the guidelines for development of hangars on the west side of the Lebanon Airport.
The property will be offered on 40-year leases to individuals and businesses who wish to build hangars to store their own aircraft. At the end of the leases, the hangars will become property of the city.
Staff Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.