Lebanon Mayor Bernie Ash presented his proposed city budgets earlier this year, which included a 3-cent property tax decrease for residents, a move that would cut about $300,000 from the city’s budget.
Ash said the city could make up the reduction through different measures, which included establishing impact fees of $900 for new single-family residential units and $1,000 for multi-family residential units, among other fees.
The council agreed to nix the property tax decrease from consideration during the budgeting process, but opted to keep the impact fees.
Members of the Home Builders Association of Middle Tennessee addressed the council regarding the potential fees.
“Our concern as homebuilders is not that you have the authority to have an impact fee. It has been in used in the area effectively. What our complication is with it so far is that we do not see proper due diligence. We’re not seeing what we believe is a proper use of the funds,” association member Duane Van Hook said. “As is, we feel your ordinance is inappropriate and does not fit the statute as required by the state of Tennessee.”
John Williams, of Tune, Entrekin & White law firm, represented the association and said his opinion on the fees differed from City Attorney Andy Wright.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk with [city attorney Andy Wright]. We’ve exchanged emails and I guess it’s fair to say we have a respectful, but pretty strong difference of opinion about whether the city really has the authority that they’re attempting to exercise through this ordinance,” he said.
Williams said he believed there has to be a direct relationship between the source of the impact fees – the developments that are paying them – and what they’re used for. He said impact fees should be used for streets, sidewalks and facilities in a certain development.
“What we’re talking about here is taking impact fees from all new developments and just using them to fund police and fire services all over the city. Admittedly, all the residents of Lebanon would benefit from that, but there’s no direct relation,” Williams said.
“The mayor has asked us for these impact fees and our city attorney has given us the legal advice that he believes we are appropriate in the way we are handling these fees,” Councilor Rob Cesternino said. “If it’s brought up at a later date that we need to fix some language or adjust some things, we can certainly do that.”
Wright said although the council dis not pass an ordinance regarding the impact fees, the fees are still a part of the city’s 2017-2018 budget, which the council approved on first reading Tuesday night.
As a part of the budget, the council agreed to staff the new Lebanon Fire Hall with 15 full-time staff, a move that departed from its previous agreement of having nine full-time and six part-time staffers.
During budget talks, Cesternino led the push to add three additional police officers to the seven already budgeted for the 2017-2018 fiscal year.
The council also approved a rezoning request for Cumberland University during Tuesday’s meeting.
The rezoning request from the university would rezone about 4.95 acres of property near the school to university campus. The university currently uses the properties near the main campus.
The properties include 233 and unaddressed University Avenue; unaddressed property on South Tarver Avenue; 311 and 315 W. Spring St.; 310 McClain Ave.; 235 Cumberland Drive, 250 and 319 S. Greenwood St., 346 S. Maple St., unaddressed Pennsylvania Avenue; 203 S. Greenwood St.; and 516 W. Spring St.
Some residents have voiced opposition to the rezoning request after talks surfaced surrounding a parking lot occupying one of the lots in the future.
Joe Gray, Cumberland University vice president for information technology, campus services and security, said the university scratched the idea of a parking lot in one of the lots and started work on placing the parking lot on the main campus.
Permitted uses under university campus zoning include one- and two-family dwellings; dormitories; fraternity and sorority houses; administrative buildings; commercial food and beverage; general retail trade and other things.
Gray said the move would unite all Cumberland University satellite properties under the same zoning.
The council will hold a special called meeting Wednesday at 7:45 a.m. at Town Hall.