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Council, 3-2, vetoes changes to insurance

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Lebanon City Council has voted down changes in the city's insurance plan that would have reduced coverage for city retirees, but now the city will have to hurry to retain any coverage at all for its retirees, according to Mayor Philip Craighead.

At a special-called council meeting Thursday night, voting no - against making the cuts - were District 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath, District 1 Councilor Lanny Jewell and District 4 Councilor Joe Hayes. Voting yes were District 2 Councilor Fred Burton and District 5 Councilor Tick Bryan, and District 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino was absent.

The ordinance would have renewed the city's health insurance while eliminating vision coverage under Health Spring for retirees, but retaining their vision care under Cigna. It also would have eliminated retirees' out-of-country coverage and increased their prescription copays by $5 per prescription.

'Don't penalize retirees'

Warmath led the opposition to the changes, saying that while she understands about rising health insurance rates, she could not support the cuts.

"I think we should find the money to keep from cutting into retirees' benefits," she said.

"I don't want us to take savings off the backs of retirees after they were committed to the city."

Jewell agreed, saying, "Some of them worked over 30 years for the city, and now we're going to cut their benefits? This has personal impact on the people who can least afford it."

So when Mayor Craighead called for the vote, the measure failed, 3-2. He later said his current concern is that this vote means the retirees' insurance cannot be renewed at all until another ordinance is passed to allow that, and the council will have to act quickly on the issue.

In fact, Craighead called two special council meetings for Tuesday and Wednesday mornings this week to get the ordinance back on track.

He said the called meetings would be necessary to get all the paperwork done in time to renew each retiree's policy after an ordinance is passed, the mayor explained.

Craighead proposed the cut because about 25 percent of the city's General Fund revenues are currently going to insurance of all sorts, including vehicles and liability, he said - and that total is rising. The cut would have been one of several belt-tightening measures that are going to be necessary due to budget pressures, the mayor also warned.

Water Dept. site approved

In contrast to the City Council's divided vote on reducing retirees' insurance benefits, the councilors unanimously passed the second reading of an ordinance to spend $1.7 million on approximately 39.9 acres on Carver Lane for the relocation of the Water/Wastewater Department.

The purchase was fast-tracked, since the council unanimously passed it earlier last week at its regular meeting last Tuesday night, where Mayor Craighead added it as a "drop-in" item on the agenda.

The site in question, known as the Floyd and Baxter properties, is located at 200 and 204 Carver Lane. The part of the Water/Wastewater Department that will move there is the section responsible for maintaining the water pipes, sewer lines and pumping stations, according to City Engineer Jeff Baines. Those employees currently work out of a building on Park Avenue.

The office where customers pay their bills will remain in City Hall, and of course the sewer plant on North Hartmann Drive and the Water Plant next to the Cumberland River will not be moving.

200 Carver Lane consists of about 38.5 acres and has a 25,000-square-foot warehouse building and a 10,500-square-foot equipment shed. The property at 204 Carver Lane is only .4 acres, but it has a 1,200-square-foot house on it.

'Should save city money'

The money to buy the property would come from two sources - $1.1 million from a loan previously approved to build a new water/wastewater maintenance facility, and $600,000 from the Water/Wastewater Department's fund balance.

The Carver Lane purchase should actually save the city money, Engineer Baines said, since the original loan was planned just to purchase land for the new facility. The newly purchased site, however, includes the warehouse, storage shed, and house that the city can use for its needs without building any new structures.

The plan, according to Baines, is to also use the property for storing the salt and brine used in the winter on city streets, which is currently stored at a facility shared with the county.

Baines added that the Carver Lane property also includes more acreage than is currently needed, so the remainder could be used in the future for other needs.

Future precinct house site?

"If the city needs a second precinct house for our Police Department, this would be an ideal site," Baines said.

Located northwest of Baddour Parkway's intersection with West Main, the property is due north of First Tennessee Bank and Lebanon Animal Hospital, and north of the railroad tracks. It may be best known as the former winter quarters of the Cumberland Valley Shows carnival.

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

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