Notes from Bernie...
Cumberland University continued...
If the council votes yes to give Cumberland $850,000, the city will not crumble. Even though some things will not get done or may have to wait for another budget year.
If the council votes no. Cumberland University will not go away. It will continue to prosper and grow.
The Cumberland Corner Project may be delayed but a $20 Million project should not be held up very long over $850,000.
The reasons I do not support this donation are:
1.) $850,000 is a lot of taxpayer money to give away to anyone.
2.) The city should not be using taxpayer money to help fund a real estate project for a private entity.
I asked for and received a legal opinion from MTAS and the State Comptroller. Both opposed making this donation from tax money.
The donation may be legal or not. Only a judge can make that call.
The State Comptroller audits our books every year. I assure you, if we write a check for $850,000 and ignore their objection it will throw up a red flag when they audit the city.
Our code of conduct dictates that we must disclose any financial dealings we may have or had concerning anything we are voting on. I encourage any councilman if this is the case to disclose this before you vote.
Tax Increase continued...
This increase amounts to $5.17 per month on a $100,000 house, $10.42 per month on a $200,000 house and $15.58 per month on a $300,000 house.
The most obvious question is, why raise taxes in the middle of all the growth that we are experiencing?
First of all, growth does not pay for itself. A recent article states that it takes 3 to 4 years for new growth to begin affecting city budgets. Meanwhile infrastructure and other costs continue to climb. In this economy the cost of construction and materials have skyrocketed causing our cost to do business to increase.
During the recession of 2008 the City laid off people and enacted a hiring freeze. As the recession slowly ended very few people were brought back to work. Now, with new growth and a lot more people coming to Lebanon and requiring services, especially fire and police we needed to hire more people.
As I’m sure you know, employees are the largest expense that we have. But the services that we provide will not happen without our employees. We have hired 46 additional fire and police officers for public safety. Most of those firemen will staff the new fire station at Hwy. 109. In this budget we have asked for additional Public Services employees that have been overlooked for a few years. All of this cost is necessary to keep up with present demands.
With a 3% unemployment rate in middle Tennessee, as with all employers, it is difficult to find and keep qualified employees. Even though we have cut some benefits we still pay over $400,000 per month In additional insurance premiums.
My original budget asked for a 1% cost of living adjustment for employees. The current rate of inflation is 1.8%. The Council asked for 3% and as of now we have settled on 2% increase.
Finally, the question I hear most often is, “why not just cut the waste”? We started with a $2.7 million shortfall. Much of that was from new hires that didn’t affect the budget until this year. Much of the rest was from unexpected cost increases created by the explosive growth we are experiencing.
We have cut the expenses by $1.8 million. over last year’s budget. This was accomplished by our Finance Commissioner and his staff whom I sent back over and over again to tweak the budget and cut everywhere possible.
Finally, what are other cities near us doing? Gallatin: tax rate, .99 plus $12 per mo. Sanitation Fee, Springfield: tax rate, $1.07 plus $14 per mo. Sanitation Fee, LaVergne, tax rate, .70 does not provide trash service., Smyrna: tax rate, .70, does not provide trash service, Spring Hill: tax rate, .85 up .26 over last year plus $10 per mo. Sanitation Fee, Columbia: $1.59, plus $10 per mo. Sanitation Fee. Murfreesboro: Tax and Sanitation Fee possibly going up 50%.
We don’t set our tax rates on what other cities are doing, but obviously, all of middle Tennessee is facing the same problems.
We will continue to monitor expenses very closely while providing services, especially public safety to all of our citizens.
Mitchell House continued...
How did the purchase of the Mitchell House come about? First of all, we had a need. Mayor Fox predicted that The Main Building would take care of the City’s needs for 20 years. The City has used this building for the last 23 years and the time has come that we need more room. We have looked at building a new building behind this one and we have looked at purchasing and renovating the bank building on the square. Both projects were plausible, but would cost several million dollars to complete.
At this time, Sigma Pi, the owners of the Mitchell House approached me about buying their building.
When asked the cost they said it could be bought for around $1 million. The county appraisal at that time was $1.8 million. It appeared to be a bargain so we set about to do our due diligence and inspect the building thoroughly.
We sent a team of our building inspectors, a team of IT professionals and the Architect who managed the renovations when the building was purchased by the Cracker Barrel. The Inspectors reported that the building was sound and only needed some cosmetic repairs. The IT team reported that with some updating the phone and computer systems would work. The Architect reported that Danny Evins spared no expense and cut no corners when renovations were completed in 1997. After examining the conditions of the previous renovations, there appeared to be no serious problems.
The final sale price was $1.15 million. We paid cash for the building and set aside, up to $250,000 for any necessary renovations.
The purchase of the Mitchell House has solved several issues for the City. 1. We will solve our overcrowding at City Hall for the next 20 years. 2. The Mitchell House will be cared for and preserved for future generations. And finally we saved at least $1.4 million compared to the cost of moving to the square.