The City of Lebanon expects to generate approximately $9.8 million over the next budget year through the property tax bills currently being sent out to residents.
That revenue marks an increase of nearly $3 million from the previous year after the city moved to set the tax rate at 0.8575 (a 41% increase from the rate set in 2018).
Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash said the tax increase is meant to address a $2.7 million shortfall in the city's
see tax/page a3
general fund brought about by rising operational costs and growth in the area.
"This tax increase is going to go to paying out shortfall, paying salaries and keeping things operating," he said. "We have a healthy reserve … (but) you don't take money from your savings account, which is usually a non-recurring income, and pay down on recurring expenses like salaries and utilities."
According to Ash, the city's finance department was also able to cut $1.8 million in expenses, but since property tax rates had fallen consistently from 1992 (0.7800) until 2008 (0.3350) the city was working with a lessened revenue stream.
"We'd hired a lot of people to make up for the loss from the Great Recession," he said. "When things started booming and moving we needed more people to furnish services, especially police and fire."
The city's police and fire departments are among the services Ash wants to see tax revenue allocated to, though balancing the general fund is the first priority.
"Really, the lion's share of the funding we look toward is about keeping up with growth," Sgt. PJ Hardy of the Lebanon Police Department said. "The national standard is 2.1 officers for every 1,000 residents … keeping with those standards has been our biggest challenge."
According to Hardy, growing land developments like Wilson Farms can stretch the department thin when it comes to assigning officers. Since 2016, the city has hired on between eight and 15 officers per year.
"This budget year we've been in a holding pattern because of some of the decisions we knew the city would have to face, including the property tax increase," Hardy said. "We didn't want to put a burden on that budget … (but) we're pretty sure that come April and May we'll ask for quite a few officers."
Those kinds of requests will depend on the amount the city ultimately brings in, and Ash hopes that the tax rate will stabilize as growth settles and allow for more investment in utilities.
"With all this growth that's going on, the city government doesn't see that money until four or five years down the line," he said. "(By then) people have moved in and started working, paying taxes, purchasing things and creating sales tax and property tax (revenue). In the meantime, they still want fire protection, police protection, water and all those things we provide."