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Mayor, Councilman differ on budget path

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By BEN DUDLEYThe Wilson Post            Parties to the process of formulating a new City of Lebanon budget for fiscal 2009-2010 said Thursday they believe the matter is getting closer to being resolved.

“We’re still working. We’re closer than we have been,” Ward 3 Lebanon City Councilor William Farmer said yesterday when asked about the process of balancing Lebanon’s budget.          Mayor Philip Craighead, agreeing but hedging to say that he and council members are close to a final budget, said that the council “realize(s) we’re not going to be able to fix this budget by layoffs. It’s going to take more than that.”           The work session Wednesday night was only 2-1/2 hours long, but the wheels seemed to be turning slowly. According to Farmer, this is because the council lacks the details needed to make decisions.           “We don’t have all the information we need. They seem to be unable or unwilling to get us details,” he said.           Part of the problem with this year’s budget is that the city’s tax revenue is down by 8 percent which Craighead has argued consistently that the shortfall in revenue has caused a crisis in adopting a new balanced budget. However, according to City Finance Commissioner Russell Lee, the estimate of $7.4 million for local sales tax collections for fiscal ’09-’10 is believed to be accurate despite the fact the estimate is several hundred thousand dollars less than sales tax receipts for the previous year.           While most of the departments were looked at Wednesday, the library and the Senior Citizen’s Center have not been discussed as far as cuts to be made. Several council members Wednesday night, however, indicated that these two departments are not immune to cuts.           “All dollars are being examined,” Farmer said.           About the Senior Citizens Center, Craighead said, “They do a great service to the community, with the Meals-On-Wheels program and the different activities for seniors.”           Craighead’s plan first included initiating certain fees and a slight increase in property tax as opposed to laying-off city employees, although he said Thursday that now he believes the budget can be balanced without raising the property tax.           “There would be a storm water fee of $2.50 a month and a garbage fee of $6.50 for one can and $5 for two cans,” he said. He also plans on budgeting four police officer’s salaries for three months instead of laying them off.         Farmer said that the advertisement placed in two local newspapers by Citizens Concerned For Lebanon’s Future had “done its job in this case.”           “I want to actually hear from the citizens,” Farmer said. “Ask them if they would rather have their taxes and fees increased or cut waste spending. Call me at my office at 444-7391. There is an answering machine and I want to hear what people really want.”           Craighead says that the ad was not an attack on anyone. He said that some friends of his wanted to help get his message out and that the newspaper was the most efficient way to reach the most people.           “I want to be progressive. I want Lebanon to be progressive,” Craighead said, “and layoffs are regressive. That’s not what I want to be about.”           When asked about the civility of the process, Craighead said he was glad Wednesday’s meeting went as quietly as it did as opposed to the June 3 meeting which had some heated discussions between citizens and council members.            “I hope we can finish this budget soon,” Craighead said. “Morale is pretty low over here.”         The next work session will be held Wednesday, June 17 at 5 pm at City Hall. The fiscal year begins on July 1.

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