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City delays sales tax vote

By Sara McManamy-Johnson sjohnson@lebanondemocrat.com • Updated Jan 7, 2014 at 10:50 PM

Lebanon officials postponed a measure that could lead to an increase in the city sales tax rate.

City council was due to consider Tuesday whether to ask voters for a half-percent increase on the city’s local option sales tax, but a conversation between City Attorney Andy Wright and state election officials prompted a last-minute delay.

In an email to Mayor Philip Craighead, Wright said State Election Commissioner Mark Goins and an attorney with the election commission, Beth Henry-Robertson, both expressed concerns about the proposed ballot language.

“They are of the position that incorporating any reference to a property tax into the ballot question would be confusing to voters and possibly subject the referendum to a successful legal challenge,” said Wright in the email.

The ordinance council was due to consider Tuesday would allow the city to ask the Wilson County Election Commission to place the following question on the ballot in a special election:

“Shall Ordinance 14-4530, passed by the Lebanon City Council on the 8th day of January, 2014, and published in the Lebanon Democrat, a newspaper of general circulation in Wilson County, which increased the local option sales tax from 2.25% to 2.75%, as authorized by and to be levied and collected pursuant to the Retailers’ Sales Tax Act under Title 67, Chapter 6, Tennessee Code Annotated, and that thereby generated a new revenue stream that will allow the Lebanon City Council to consider a substantial reduction in the City of Lebanon property tax, become operative?”

Wright said Goins and Henry-Robertson believed the wording of it could violate the city’s charter.

“[B]ecause our charter vests sole authority in the setting of property tax rates in the city council, they are of the opinion that by incorporating a reference to the property tax in our ballot question, we would be transferring that authority to the voters, albeit indirectly, which would violate our charter provisions,” said Wright.

He said he planned to change the proposed wording to something that would meet with the State Election Commission’s approval and he hoped to have it back on the agenda for a first reading at council’s second meeting in January.

With the sales tax referendum off Tuesday’s agenda, councilors quickly passed several other items, the highlight of which was starting the process to set up a team dedicated to handling the city’s drainage projects.

Councilors unanimously passed on first reading a measure to establish and fill a drainage-crew supervisor position.

“Our crews, as available, were to go out and do things, but we were not overstaffed,” said Craighead. “To get everything done, that means you’re not able to dedicate something every day.”

With the reorganization, one crew will be available to just handle projects.

“This will be a little more project-oriented,” said Jeff Baines, commissioner of public works. “This is a more aggressive program than we’ve had… This will be a water/sewer crew that just does drainage.”

In other business, council approved the following items:

A third reading to approve bids for additions and modifications at the water treatment plant;

A first reading to re-appropriate funds from the 2012-2013 fiscal year budget to the 2013-2014 Fiscal Year Budget for the Storm Water Special Litter grant;

A first reading to authorize a line item transfer for the fire department in the 2013-2014 fiscal year budget, transferring $40,000 from Salary Expenditures to Overtime Expenditures;

A first reading to amend the city’s Future Land Use Plan by changing part of the land at 2072 Old Murfreesboro Road from Commercial Office to Industrial Commercial;

A first reading changing property at 2072 Old Murfreesboro Road from agriculture to highway business and industrial subdivision;

A resolution to sell and scrap surplus items throughout the city;

A first reading to buy an upgrade for the radio and telephone recording system for central dispatch;

A first reading to approve Warren & Associates to perform consulting engineering and design services for he proposed Water and Sewer Operations building on Knoxville Avenue and permission to advertise for bids for construction;

A first reading to approve bids for the East Apron drainage improvements at the Lebanon Municipal Airport;

A first reading to approve certification pay for two water treatment plant operators;

A first reading to authorize the purchase of license and support for the Archonix Public Safety Software for the police department;

A resolution to promote employees within the fire department.

Lebanon City Council will meet again Jan. 21 at 6 p.m. at the Town Meeting Hall, located at 200 N. Castle Heights Ave.

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