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Lebanon city taxpayers deserve answers
Aug 19, 2005 12:00 am
IN OUR OPINION
August 16, 2005
City taxpayers deserve straight answers about their government's budget. Unfortunately, that may not happen during this already contentious election season.
The 2004-05 budget year was a difficult one for Lebanon. Unexpected expenses totaling millions of dollars taxed the city budget heading into the new budget year in July.
It was clear city leaders were going to have to pass a tight budget in June, looking even to trim from departments' proposed budgets – a rarity for a Lebanon city government typically flush with a growing tax base and revenue stream.
City budget documents appear to show a city budget with about a $30,000 surplus. Minutes from the last Council meeting on Aug. 2 show city staff suggesting that figure is routine, adding the city usually ends up with a six-figure surplus at the end of each fiscal year.
However, from there not much is clear as city staff on Monday refused to answer the newspaper's questions about budget questions raised by mayoral candidate and sitting Ward 3 Councilman Williams Farmer.
In addition, incumbent Mayor Don Fox did little to explain the surplus he and his allies on the City Council insist exists other than to dismiss Farmer's concerns as political hyperbole.
Farmer maintains "crisis management" saw the city overspend the budget last year by millions, where Fox counters by saying those funds were not actually part of the city's operating budget.
To make matters worse, both Fox and Farmer offered up city budget documents with the same date and title, except the numbers are vastly different.
Both sides claim the other is playing politics with the city's budget to serve their own political ends. Without some straight talk from city staff paid to do so when the public calls, it is difficult to tell if either side is being completely truthful.
We would urge city leaders to lower their volume level and allow city taxpayers to get a clear picture of where the city budget stands tonight in the City Council meeting. If there are legitimate questions, they should be answered without chest beating and name calling. If different versions of the same city budget report exist, they should be reconciled.
Above all else, politics should be dropped for an evening and taxpayers allowed an explanation that makes sense to those outside the fish bowl of city government.