The Lebanon City Council approved a COVID-19 response plan for city employees on Tuesday, less than 24 hours before Wilson County’s first case of the virus was confirmed by Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Under the plan, city employees have been divided into three categories: essential/frontline personnel, essential/may work from home and non-essential. Those categories will serve as a roadmap if city hall is closed during the pandemic.
“We had an extra staff meeting at the first of the week to talk about the virus,” Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said, “Essential frontline employees would have to come in to provide services, but as many essential employees as we can have working from home we will. There’s also going to be a payment plan in place to keep city employees paid if we have to close.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the only facilities Ash has exercised mayoral authority to close are the Jimmy Floyd Center and the Lebanon Senior Citizens Center.
With the virus now confirmed in the county, residents may start seeing additional closures as authorities continue monitoring the situation. Ash said there is a plan in place to shut down city hall’s lobby and transition to drive-through only services if needed.
“Our plan right now is to take it on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “We want to do everything we can to make sure our citizens are safe without causing a panic.”
If city hall does close, non-essential personnel that cannot work remotely will still receive up to 40 hours worth of pay. After that, they may use accrued time off or sick days, or apply for unemployment benefits for the duration of the closure.
The city council itself will continue meeting in order to conduct city business, though uncertainties about the virus’s impact on business and tornado relief spending could play into its financial decisions.
“We’ve got to really watch our spending,” Ward 2 Councilor Fred Burton said. “That’s something everybody needs to keep in the back of their minds when it comes to line item transfers. If there’s nothing desperately needed we don’t need to do it. We need to hold on to every dime we can get … with all this tornado damage our sales taxes are going to hit rock bottom.”
To that end, the council discussed a zoning ordinance that would classify approximately 34 acres of property on Callis Road as a planned business/industrial park.
The Lebanon Planning Commission unanimously recommended denial at its Feb. 25 meeting, and the council ultimately voted to defer the item to try and address concerns with the developer.
“One of the things we do try to balance is the interests of people who live in areas where businesses are locating,” Ward 4 Councilor Chris Crowell said. “There were some concerns expressed on this particular issue … with regard to the type of rezoning that we were looking at. There was a suggestion that we consider, and I think they’re amendable to this — just trying to work together on the time frame with the possibility of a specific plan (SP).”
Planning Director Paul Corder said SPs are used to protect neighborhoods during industrial expansion and help residents understand what the intentions for the property are.
“The applicant has indicated that they would need it to be done by the end of May,” he said. “If they reapplied for an SP at this point, the normal process would take it to June 2. There are a few things that we could do possibly to move that forward. One is to have a called meeting at the planning commission. The other one … we’d have to put it on the agenda for city council before the planning commission had even voted on it.”
In addition, the council approved a second and final reading of an ordinance granting fee waivers for properties affected by March 3’s tornado, along with an agreement with TDOT to install a traffic signal at the intersection of TN 109 and Callis Road.
The Lebanon City Council’s next regular session meeting is slated for 6 p.m. on April 7, at the city’s administration building on 200 N. Castle Heights Ave.