The Lebanon City Council is expected to vote on a status quo budget for the city in June after reviewing cuts and additions to each department over the last few weeks, but funding is still in flux.
COVID-19’s impact on the local economy remains the largest unknown as officials await tax figures from April and May, and some departments are hoping for more money if those revenue streams are healthy.
“The city separated us and the police department and trash men when the COVID came out,” Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Dowell said, speaking in favor of raises for his employees. “We still had to work when everybody else was working from home for two weeks at a time. When we’re out there … I understand some people sit up there and say, ‘this is what you signed up for’ … this is not the ordinary thing.”
Dowell’s budget is down $4.76 million, largely from removing the costs associated with newly upgraded communication equipment. Many of his proposed budget additions are based on funding new hires.
However, Human Resources Director Sylvia Reichle recommended against offering salary increases for specific departments when several have made requests.
“I understand we want to look out for our employees, but we have important employees in all of our departments,” she said. “If we agree to look at this and follow up even after the budget’s passed to talk about compensation and what our strategy may be moving forward as the budget’s finalized, that’s a recommendation.”
Members of the council recommended taking another look at the budget in a few months with more economic data on hand.
“I know a lot of people are seeing some cuts,” Ward 1 Councilor Joey Carmack said. “I wanted to ask that we come back in July and see if we could add some of these things in that have been taken out.”
Ward 6 Councilor Jeni Lind Brinkman said the council should be willing to move line items into next year’s budget depending and that a resurgence of COVID-19 could further upend the process.
“I think this budget’s going to be very fluid as we’re going through this year,” she said. “There’s likely going to be another wave this fall, how are we going to handle that? As we’re looking forward in the budget, we need to be able to flex and understand which capital items we need to, when we can, put forward along the way.”
Ward 4 Councilor Chris Crowell said the virus has likely already left a large impact on the local economy.
“I’ve had some meetings today with folks, and we’re looking at financial forecasting and so forth that shows there could be significant problems ahead even if we don’t have a second wave,” he said. “For example, we had results from hotels that were showing 10% occupancy … from my standpoint, the plan for what we spend is only contingent on the plan for what we receive.”
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said adding employee raises is not going to be a priority in the next few months because of the current situation.
“We need to get this budget passed and in July look and see where we are,” he said. “We may be a lot better off, we may be a lot worse off — we have no idea at this point. And we don’t need to be talking about raises or anything like that now until we get back to normal.”
The council has not set a date to formally vote on the budget, but the earliest possible date is its June 16 meeting at 6 p.m. Members of the public can view the proceedings live on social media or Charter 198.