For the first time in modern history, the City of Lebanon has been approved to create a biennial, or two-year, budget.
It's an endeavor that new Mayor Bernie Ash has not taken lightly.
Ash said that he and Finance Commissioner Robert Springer first created a budget that was balanced and included a three-cent tax cut; however, this was not received by members of the Lebanon City Council. According to Ash, he did not receive support on the tax cut.
Now he is preparing to take another budget to council in late May, and it is $600,000 in the black.
"We aren't in bad shape at all," he said. "My goal this year is to keep the status quo. People may complain that we are not doing a whole lot, but we need to let the revenues recoup, and at budget time next year, we can see where we are and what projects need to be done."
Proposed impact fee would pay for growth
One way of creating revenue is by implementing an impact fee.
An impact fee would be $900 on residential homes, $1,000 per unit on multi-family units, and 50 percent of the permit fee for commercial buildings.
"My thought is that the property owners have been footing the cost for this growth for years. The people creating the growth need to be paying for the growth," Ash said. "With growth comes additional services (to be provided by) the city, from police to fire to sanitation."
Ash said our impact fees would be lower than surrounding cities.
But is it a reliable source of revenue?
Ash said this was a concern of some council members.
"Building cycles like we are in now don't come around all the time," he said of the boom in construction. "This cycle will slow down, but while we are in this cycle - we are going to take advantage of it."
32 jobs added in Fiscal Year 2017-18
The proposed budget would add 32 new full-time employees in Fiscal Year 2017-18 and 11 new full-time employees in Fiscal Year 2018-2019.
"While we were looking at the budget we discussed doing nine full-time and six part-time firemen at the new station at (Highway 109). It's not really the way to run a fire station. Council and I went back and forth and agreed to add 15 full-time positions," Ash explained.
Ten new police officer positions will also be added in the two-year period, as well as a position in the city's planning department.
"Every bit of growth we have comes through planning. If they are shorthanded, it slows the process down. It takes longer to get permits and decisions made. We need to speed that up at the top," Ash said.
Other positions will be created in the parks and recreation department.
Other budget points
The proposed budget would also:
- Include a new fire engine and new police vehicles
- Create a sanitation fee of $10 per can for commercial customers only
- Create a stormwater fee for residences, commercial and industrial sites. Residences would be $1.50 to $2.50 per month based on the home size. Commercial would be a sliding scale with a minimum of $15 per month.
- Reduce overtime, increase staffing
Agenda session 'stood up'?
One of Ash's initiatives since being elected mayor in November 2016 is to increase communication between council members.
He has set up agenda meetings, prior to regular called city council meetings for this purpose, he said. These meetings are not mandatory, but offer council members the opportunity to speak up about agenda items in an informal setting.
The meetings are televised in an effort to keep the inner-workings of city government transparent for residents.
"When I came into office, I felt like communication was a problem so I created the agenda meetings. It is just an informal time to go over the items and talk with department heads who came up with these ordinances and resolutions," Ash said. "We are in a setting where we are comfortable to talk, but it's also televised for the public."
Ash said only one squire showed up to Monday night's session. It was Ward 4 Council Member Chris Crowell.
Ash received notice from three councilors that they would be absent for various reasons. These members were Joey Carmack, Ward 1; Rob Cesternino, Ward 3; and Rick Bell, Ward 6.
Ash maintains he did not receive a notice of absence from Fred Burton, Ward 2; or Tick Bryan, Ward 5.
"I felt like this was working," Ash said. "Maybe this was just a quirk."