The city of Lebanon’s budget process began Thursday, with significant cuts on the table for the public safety and radio systems funds as large-scale projects wrap up.

Lebanon Police Chief Mike Justice presented a public safety budget down $4.96 million, reflecting the completion of the new police facility expected to open in June, while Lebanon Fire Chief Chris Dowell’s radio systems fund is down $4.76 million because of upgraded communication equipment.

With those expenses no longer included, both department heads are asking the Lebanon City Council to approve increases to salaries, benefits and more for their employees.

“We had some discussions about currently, our dispatchers, our communication folks are about $3 an hour under some folks around us,” Justice said. “We really need to adjust that … we’ve been challenged on some pay issues concerning the policy that we have around promotions, and I presented a plan to the Merit Review Board on how to fix those. “

Justice said a large one-time pay adjustment implemented in 2016 led to a non-equitable policy surrounding promotions. With budget amendments to address those items, expenses would include an additional $133,000 for police and $33,000 for dispatch with a cost of living adjustment.

The current proposal includes a $149,000 increase in salaries for the police department and $227 for public safety.

“I see it as a huge retention issue,” Justice said. “We spend a lot of money on training folks, and dispatch is one of those places that we do have some turnover. It’s a super stressful situation, super stressful job and we want to be able to make career individuals out of those dispatchers.”

Justice also discussed COVID-19’s impact on revenue streams at the police department, including reductions in court fees and drug seizures.

Regarding the fire department, Dowell said most of his additions to the budget come from more firefighters being added on.

“I’ve upped it because as you add people — I’ve got six right now that are struggling through academy,” he said. “Not struggling on the academic part, but they’re getting pulled back here because of the COVID-19 … when they get back, these costs you see on the board are to take care of them as far as uniforms and things of that nature.”

Dowell identified drivers as another major need for his department that stands to see budget cuts.

“I had 10 of them in the budget, and I have three lieutenants in the budget also,” he said. “Running these calls, you’re taxed with drivers … there’s three pieces of equipment up at Station 1, I’ve got two drivers. And when I say driver, a lot of people will look at you like ‘anybody can drive a fire engine.’ Well, do you really want somebody that’s not certified driving down the road with a million dollar piece of equipment?”

The Lebanon City Council’s next budget work session will take place at 6 p.m. on Monday, and is slated to cover departments related to city administration, tourism, economic development and city-owned properties like the Mitchell House and Jimmy Floyd Center.

Citizens wishing to observe the work session or provide comments are asked to contact Mike Collinsworth at mcollinsworth@lebanontn.org or 615-443-2839 ext. 2401 by 5 p.m. on Sunday.

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