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Lebanon budget passes 1st reading Wednesday

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Lebanon City Council got the ball rolling by passing on first reading the 2011-2012 budget during a special called meeting Wednesday afternoon, during which several councilors brought up items for concern that will require it to be amended before second and third readings.

Ward 6 Councilor Kathy Warmath called the budget status quo from last year, pointing out that some expenditures and revenues were taken out. The budget estimates expenditures in the amount of $19.95 million and revenues of $18.1 million.

Nothing in this budget is set in stone, said Russell Lee, commissioner of finance and revenue, pointing out the budget can be amended before it passes a third reading.

During budget work sessions in the past several months, Mayor Philip Craighead gave many proposals to the council that included property tax increases, additional fees or both to make up the difference between expenses and revenue.

Lee said the proposal approved Wednesday night included no property tax increases, no sanitation or storm water fee and will authorize the use of $1.85 million from the Rainy Day Fund.

One thing included in the budget proposal was an increase in funds to the Regional Transit Authority from the city to $50,000. The city has given $25,000 annually to the RTA in previous years.

I think we ought to look at that RTA, other cities arent upping the ante, so why should we be the only one? asked Ward 2 Councilor Kevin Huddleston.

Several councilors agreed that funds given to RTA should be maintained at $25,000 and instead use money they have toward maintaining the Music City Star station in Lebanon.

Warmath suggested using the $25,000 increase toward paving the Star station parking lots in the future. As a compromise, Warmath said she would be willing to use half of the proposed $25,000 increase toward maintaining the stations and the remaining $12,500 go to the RTA.

Craighead was opposed to reducing the $50,000 number and said with the Hamilton Springs transit-oriented development having been approved by the Lebanon Planning Commission, the city should increase the funds to RTA because of the contributions it makes to the community.

Thats a statement on our identity for the future, Craighead said of the Music City Star and providing more funds for RTA.

The council asked if the city would be responsible for maintaining the station that is proposed to be built within the Hamilton Springs development. Craighead noted that it was unclear at this time whether the city, RTA or the developers would be responsible for maintaining the station.

Also during the meeting, there was considerable discussion about the $1.85 million being utilized from the Rainy Day Fund to cover the deficit. Lee noted that about $750,000 less was used from the estimated $1.8 million the city withdrew from the reserves to cover last years deficit.

The $750,000 is included in the $1.85 million and Lee said that number will be included in the 2010-2011 fiscal year closing fund balance. He explained that the Rainy Day Fund is not a separate account, but is simply money in the fund balance that is not allocated for expenditure.

Instead of $1.8 million, (the $750,000) will knock it down to $1.1 million, Huddleston confirmed.

Lee said that including $1.8 million from the Rainy Day Fund does not mean it is taken out, but simply authorizing that amount for use if needed. He said if the funds are not used, they are not taken out.

Although property tax increases were removed from the new proposed budget, Lee said he did not remove the $435,000 budgeted for paving, which was increased from $173,000 due to the projected property tax increase.

The council agreed to have it left in the budget despite no property tax increase and also confirmed the added fees for participation in city recreation leagues and use of the wading pool at Don Fox Community Park are still included.

The council passed the budget by a vote of 4-2 with Ward 3 Councilor Rob Cesternino voting no and Ward 5 Councilor Haywood Barry voting present. Cesternino has repeatedly called for a property tax increase to fund much needed city services. Barry also supports a property tax increase of some level to increase revenues.

The council will hold a work session on Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 5:15 p.m., prior to their regular meeting to decide on amendments to the budget proposal. The budget will come up for second reading during the regular meeting on the same day at 6 p.m., in the Town Meeting Hall, City of Lebanon Administration Building at Castle Heights.

By PATRICK HALL, The Wilson Post /

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