To the Editor:
For many years I have been disappointed with the indifference or apathy within the local community. Whether it’s a Lebanon City Council meeting or a budget session, the residents seem to feel no need to attend these sessions. Other meetings that include planning and board of zoning appeals experience almost no attendance by the public. As this city grows, the public needs to be more involved because Lebanon is becoming pro-growth by a mayor with ties to real estate, building and development. Further, I believe alliances have been formed on the council and boards that support the mayor’s positions.
I have had concerns about the mayor’s active growth plans. Last month, a resolution was voted on to provide for the Cumberland Center Development District proposed by the mayor. It included funding from sales tax revenue to build a reserve fund. Also, the city would seek participation from Wilson County and the Wilson County school board by forgoing a portion of its sales tax revenue. The district would include an ill-advised event center. Additional funds would be needed in the form of bonds leaving the taxpayers responsible. The center is the brainchild of ICC or Global Entertainment, which has built 10 such centers. My investigation reveals that four have severe financial problems. They have had to resort to additional funding from taxpayers in the local community. This is not a good indication of a successful business model. Would you risk your personal money on an investment that 40 percent have severe financial difficulties?
One of the cities is currently dealing with an event center that can’t cover expenses. As a result, it has now found it necessary to cover the bonds from its budget. The payments amounts to 7 percent of the entire city budget. These centers have a history of not meeting expectations and have negative articles published in the Nashville Business Journal and New York Times.
The Cumberland Center District resolution failed because it did not get enough votes. It was three yes, two no, and one council member did not vote. Ward 2 Councilor Fred Burton’s failure to vote was a wise move. Had he changed to a no vote, the mayor would have broken a 3-3 tie, therefore establishing the district.
After much thought, Burton could not be swayed to vote even with much pressure by the mayor and one councilmember who supported the district. I don’t feel the issue is dead and will be brought to the surface again. Burton has received some negative comments, but I feel he represented his constituents well, and in doing so benefited the entire community. The no vote may occasionally be needed as the only means to slow ill-advised pro-growth resolutions that risk taxpayer dollars.
I am not opposed to well-financed, planned growth, but this community is in need of existing infrastructure funding. We need to provide for the existing needs of the community before having new infrastructure and bonds issued for the benefit of special interests. This sort of continual funding for the benefit of growth has hurt many communities nationwide, many of which are now in severe financial trouble, including bankruptcy.
The city will soon be dealing with a new budget, and public involvement is needed. One item of concern will be health care benefits. It appears the Affordable Health Care Act will result in much higher premiums.
Currently, employees, retirees and councilors cover about 7 percent of the costs. Nationwide, private sector employees cover an average 23 percent of the costs if they are even offered health care benefits.
What the council does will depend on you. Get involved; they are spending your hard-earned money. Are you ready for another property tax increase? What about the mayor’s proposal for a ½-cent sales tax increase? It has passed the first reading but more votes will be needed to get on the ballot. It will be scheduled for later this year but not during the November election. So, we will be given the opportunity to raise the local tax during an off-election that historically results in a small turnout and the possibility special interests can affect the results.
By the way, the deduction of sales tax on your federal tax return ends this year. I have asked our senators what they are doing about reinstating, but I have not received any response yet.
Please start attending meetings and talk with your councilor. The city meetings are often scheduled at inconvenient times, but don’t let that discourage you. You, the individual, should be the most important special interest of your elected representatives. Have your say, and say it loud and clear.