Ironton’s future requires long-term planPublished 12:00am Sunday, February 26, 2012
Ironton taxpayers may feel like they are listening to a broken record when it comes to the city’s financial challenges, but this is a song that citizens really need to hear.
The outcome could have a profound impact for years to come.
City leaders continue to try to hammer out a budget for 2012 but, thankfully, they are starting to look beyond just this year as well.
To simply draft a financial outline for the next nine months is shortsighted and doomed to failure. But that seems to be the way the city’s finances have often been approached and a big factor in why the city is in the shape it is now.
Finance Director Kristen Martin has done a good job of creating a draft of a long-term plan for the next three years that could be sustainable if all the pieces fall in place.
Finally the budget isn’t being looked at as a one-year plan.
Whether or not council approves this version or some other iteration, remains to be seen.
The top priority is for the city to reduce its spending. That is the most controllable element.
The city may be on track if it moves forward with a plan to have its employees pay their fair share of health insurance and retirement, a move that would help fix a benefit package that is out of touch with reality.
The current proposal calls for employees to start paying 10 percent of their health insurance and seven and half in retirement.
The most recent draft also projects city employees would have to pay 15 percent in 2013 and 20 percent in 2014 for health insurance. And up to 10 percent of retirement.
These things need to be laid on the table now and the city’s unions have to get on board for the greater good.
The city has to look at cutting its personnel costs as well by consolidating some positions and making sure the right people are in them. It won’t be fun and certainly won’t be easy but it is a necessity.
Council must also look at all the various perks it gives its employees such as uniform allowances, fitness bonuses, gun certification bonuses, etc.
Consolidation of duplicate services has to be another emphasis.
Police dispatching is the obvious choice. The politics in the political power struggle has to be put aside in the city in the county must find a way to make 911 and the sheriff’s office the comprehensive system it always should have been.
Lots of people have been using the argument that nothing should be cut and that people should just pay more since communities like Portsmouth, Marietta and Ashland have higher taxes.
But it cannot be overlooked that the median household income is $28,000. These are families who, have no insurance or retirement yet the city wants to ask them to keep footing nearly all the bill for city employees to have benefit packages far better than their own.
As far as revenue goes, the reality is some fee and tax increases have to be adopted to give the city the ability to improve itself.
People may not like these increases but, if substantial cuts are made and it is clear how every penny of this additional revenue will be used, it should be much more palatable.
But just maintaining the status quo simply isn’t enough.
If city leaders are going to place more burden on its residents every dollar must help move the city forward with economic development and growth.
Without question, the city needs a level playing field of everyone paying equally for city services.
That starts with eliminating reciprocity. Anyone who works should pay the City of Ironton the same amount, regardless of where they are employed.
The argument that this will cause people to move simply doesn’t hold water. For an individual making $100,000 a year, this change will cost them $500. Is someone going to move over this? Not likely.
It is far more likely that someone would move if services are slashed and our city is allowed to decay.
The municipal fee has to go up. But is there a better way to do it?
Could the city charge a $15 fee to anyone not paying income tax? If they do pay income tax, maybe that person get a refund at the end of the year for half that amount.
That would help make it more equitable for all citizens rather than just putting the burden on those who are employed.
Or, as Ironton’s Jay Zornes has suggested, could the city charge a $15 municipal fee but offer a rebate or discount for people who spend money here in Ironton each month.
The city’s budget will likely be a plan that doesn’t make anyone happy because it will require a combination of painful cuts, personal sacrifices and more fees or taxes.
If all those are in balance, it should create a plan that can be sustained this year and beyond.
Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.