Archived Story

Residents foot bill in flawed budget

Published 9:52am Tuesday, March 13, 2012

For more than two months Ironton leaders have talked passionately about the need to fill a potential half million dollar hole in the city’s budget by living within its means, finding better ways to operate and asking its workers to pay their fair share of expenses.

But, now that the moment of truth has nearly arrived, it appears that the city council will walk away from most of the tough decisions — at least for now — and balance a flawed budget on the backs of the citizens.

Well, more precisely, on their pocketbooks.

The proposed budget would be a costly blow to many of the residents of Ironton, where the median household income is a meager $28,000. According to 2009 census data, one out of every three Ironton resident lives below the national poverty level. Even a few extra dollars a month, when added to all the existing fees and increasing costs of living, can be catastrophic.

Time is running out as the March 31 budget deadline looms. But it is not too late for our leaders to alter the course a bit since the plan won’t be voted on until 6 p.m. Wednesday, which may also be the last chance for citizens to let their voices be heard.

This council appears to be trying to do the right thing and has worked very hard identifying the many areas that need to be addressed. So why waste all the effort and hours of what is essentially volunteer work by making minimal changes and just throwing money at the problem?

All the talk from council about cutting expenses and creating a sustainable spending plan looks like little more than theatrics performed to paint a doomsday picture to justify increasing fees for residents.

Or maybe it is to help council sleep at night.

A bright spot is that the council is finally looking at the budget as more than a one-year plan. Councilman Bob Cleary and the others did a good job of creating a blueprint. The problem is it delays too many of the changes until year two or three of that plan.

The proposed budget increases the municipal fee from $8 per month, per household, to $14, a 75 percent hike, for at least the next year. The council also voted to require those working outside the city of Ironton to pay a half-percent more in income taxes. Both might be palatable for many citizens — if the city tightened its belt significantly in other areas of a budget that has long included more spending than revenue.

So what was done to address those expenses? Not much, at least in this year of the budget.

The plan would help force a consolidation of police dispatching with the county. But this will still cost the city more than $100,000 a year and was among the easiest of decisions. But this cannot be counted on until it is completed. It has been talked about for years and never accomplished. Depending on these savings is premature.

No other jobs were cut.

Employees will not be asked to pay more for their health insurance. Currently they only pay 5 percent of their monthly premium — an amount almost unheard of in the private sector. It does ask them to start paying 7.5 percent toward their retirement, a perk that is still far better than the retirement options most of the citizens being asked to foot the bill have.

Does the proposed budget allow the city to focus on economic development? No. In fact, the budget cuts the economic development director’s salary of $19,000 by nearly $4,000. That provides little incentive to work harder.

The proposed budget does little to actually improve the city, placing a significant burden on citizens who get only more of the same in return.

Although it can be argued that the city should operate like a business or a household, and live with what it has, increasing the burden on citizens is justifiable if doing so helps the city improve and all other options have been exhausted.

Several councilmen have said more changes will be implemented this year but those promises hold little weight or urgency if they are not included in this year’s formal budget plan.

Ultimately, the proposed budget plan does very little to move Ironton forward. It is simply another in a long line of Band-Aids to keep the status quo and delay the tough decisions which must be made.

The city could still make a variety of changes that would make a difference for how the city operates. None of these ideas are personal toward individuals or departments. Ironton’s employees work hard and are greatly appreciated. But the reality is that the culture has to change, and it cannot be left to the residents to foot the bill for an ever-increasing budget that far outstrips the revenue.

Here are some potential key changes that would cut costs, preserve services and provide avenues for the city to grow. They are not perfect and would be tough on city employees as years of inaction on the benefits packages is corrected quickly. But, in the end, correcting these issues now is in the best interest of all of Ironton’s more than 11,000 residents, not just a few individuals.

— Require all city employees to pay 10 percent of their health insurance this year, 15 percent in 2013 and 20 percent in 2014. This should be the top priority because of the significant increases in health care costs over the years, most of which the city and its taxpayers have had to absorb on their own.

— Require that employees pay 5 percent of their retirement this year and move to 10 percent in 2014. If the unions will not make these concessions, jobs will have to be cut to reach the same level of savings.

— Implement a two-year hiring and wage increase freeze. This allows for enough time for the city to get a clear picture of how the budget changes have stabilized Ironton’s future. Then a conservative salary increase schedule should be implemented.

— Transfer dispatching to the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, one way or another.

— Combine the assistant finance director position with the benefits specialist position. Hire the most qualified individual who can do both jobs.

— Look at operational changes within the fire department. Ohio law allows room for staffing or shift changes. Do we need four or five people there at all times? Probably not. Could volunteers be used to complement paid manpower? Possibly. Should taxpayers pay for all of the firefighters’ meals while at work? This costs the city roughly $20,000 a year and seems out of line with other cities.

— Cut funding to the Ironton Municipal Court by $100,000 in 2012 and reevaluate for 2013. It won’t be easy for Judge Clark Collins, but he has expressed a willingness to help and he is savvy enough to find a way to make this work, even if it means he has to delay some of his expansion plans.

— Have the IPD enforce all traffic laws in order to stop traffic violations, drunk driving and other offenses. It would make our community safer as well as generate revenue. The police could write 50 citations or more each day with rigid enforcement. Instead we allow countless people to break the law and drive intoxicated. In many cases this leaves it to the Ohio State Highway Patrol, which means the state gets more of the revenue from the citations than if the IPD wrote the tickets. Nearly all of the money from fines would stay in Ironton then.

— Charge bars $50 every time the police department is called there to play bouncer for owners too cheap to provide their own security. Add it to the water bill with everything else. Failure to pay doesn’t mean the police won’t come but you cannot operate a business without water service.

— Create an incentive plan of some sort (maybe with income tax rebates, contests, etc.) that encourages shopping in Ironton. Although there are some things that have to be purchased elsewhere, far too many people cross the Ohio River just to save a few cents. This ultimately takes money out of our community.

— Raise the municipal fee from $8 to $10, with the $150,000 or so extra it will generate going solely to economic development. Hire a full-time economic director with a proven track record in a city comparable to Ironton. We need a high-energy individual who can sell the city. Tie a significant portion of the compensation to results. Priorities should be attracting a hotel, developing a strategic plan to market the former Ironton Iron site and other developable property and finding partnerships to fund the Ro-Na restoration.

If council approves the proposed budget, Irontonians have no one to blame but themselves. Most citizens have remained quiet, as this debate has raged.

The old cliché is that you get what you pay for. Ironton citizens are likely to be asked to pay for more without getting much in return.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at mike.caldwell@irontontribune.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.

 

 

 

  1. rambo

    Well thanks Mick not what I recieved when I returned was called baby killer but anyone that served knows that is not true as the baby killers were those we served against.

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  2. mickakers

    rambo; Thanks for your reply. Anyone who served in “Nam” deserves the respect of his or her fellow countrymen.

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  3. rambo

    Hey spent my time in the military as a scout sniper training under Sgt. Gunnery Carlos Hathcock ever here of him? Well you probaly have not but my time in the corp was some of the best of my life even in Nam.

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  4. rambo

    Hey Mick by the way have spent the last forty plus years here and plan to stay can you say the same?

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  5. rambo

    Wow Mick seems to be getting defensive a good sign that someone wants to think they are just like a regular resident here, It doesn’t manner that you spent years here the point is you are not here and have not been for years mick if you think I would know the same thing bout where u live now then you are either a complete idiot which hope you are not or you can now know what goes on here now sure some may be impressed with your resume but I am not sorry but is there a reason you don’t tell us what is going on thee where you live? Seems strange! I do appreciate your contribution from the past but that is what is the past.

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  6. mickakers

    rambo; My statement spent my last 12 years etc, should have read 10 years.

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  7. mickakers

    rambo; Born in Ironton, 1943. Graduated St. Joe 1961. Worked for the C&O in Russell for 32 years (clerk)
    Transportation and Freight Office. Lived in South Point for 12 years, Ironton 40 years, Transferred to Jacksonville, Florida in 1994, spent my last 12 years on the railroad (CSXT) in the Finance Dept. for a total of 42 years railroad service. Was President of Roosevelt Lodge #359 Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks, Russell, Ky, with 350 plus members for twenty years, have been a member of this union for 50 years. It is now called Transportation Communications Union (TCU) affiliated with AFL-CIO. What about you?

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  8. rambo

    Hey Mick where u from ?

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  9. rambo

    Seems we have a lot of so called residents that now live elsewhere but seem to believe that can tell actual residents here what they should or should not do. Yeal they have there little followers here that either work here or most likely out of state. Are these folks really ready to admit where they live of course not sort of like there hero if office. Both are not hard fast americans that wourl ever do anything to defend this country and bet they have never served in the armed forces. We know who we are talking about but bet they don’t have the guts to admit who they are. Well anyway hope those that are not part of the ommunity do not infuence those that actually live and work here unlike those that pretend to.

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  10. 79Tiger

    Not bad there at all kahuna. Make for one killer of a football team as well.

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  11. mickakers

    bigkahuna; I kinda like the name, “Hanging Iron Grove”, it has an unusual ring to it!!! I fear the residents of Hanging Rock and Coal Grove would be hesitant about jumping aboard a sinking ship. With all the disparaging remarks I read on this site pertaining to the payment of taxes and fees, thereby negating personal responsibility for the upkeep of the community and the lack of income of the majority of Ironton’s citizens, sounds like most are on or close to the poverty level, I cannot picture the survival of Ironton as an incorporated city. I think there needs to be, what the old timers called, an attitude adjustment.

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  12. bigkahuna

    Mick,Why not merge Hanging Rock,Ironton,and Coal Grove and call it Hanging Iron Grove?

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  13. tiger534

    Wow mick like anyone here really cares about your opininns but those like you that expect someone else like big govr’t to take care of them bet you have llots of those that suppoet you those that acually want to work would telll you where to get off.

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  14. mickakers

    Just some thoughts; Is it possible or feasible for Ironton to become un-incorporated, thereby doing away with all city departments, such as Police, Fire, Sanitation and Street department. Turn over all municipal responsibilities to the county, go with a volunteer fire dept. The county could in return sub-contract a lot of this work out. It appears Ironton is in a hopeless situation, trying to survive as a city.

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  15. Ohno

    WOW a good editorial and only two weak comments. All that is necessary for the triumph of evil- or stupid-, is for good men to do nothing. I am dismayed that there are no citizens of Ironton that have not seen through this “budget” BS and see that the city has cut nothing. Lets leave everything status quo and keep raising the water bill. Of course that is a tax but I guess the folks around here aren’t smart enough to know better. The county budget was whipped into shape by cutting expenses and the office holders managed to cut spending and still kept employees but they did not have a water bill to pass the cost onto the citizens so they had to shape up- but they did a good job. I read the police beat and when the sheriffs department responds on a call- someone goes to jail, when the city answers a call, no one is there, parties are advised or they didn’t find anything, nothing happens and no tickets…the mayor blew almost $200,000 to tear the roof off of an old building but is upset someone spent $169.00 to get information regarding employee benefits to put help put a budget together…is there something wrong here????I don’t want more fees on the water bill and I expect the office holders to run the city just like a business, cut expenses. It can be done without sacrificing “city services” just manage…and why cant they combine the dispatching services…I think when we call 911 it should reach any of the emergency departments in the entire county..911- that is what it is for quick- what is the Ironton emergency number????? It’s not 911…….

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  16. swimmingupstream

    Good job, Mike

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  17. Country

    You mentioned Cleary having some good idea’s to save money but not putting to use this year but in the next few years. But in last weeks paper where he thought he could talk with Cross Management without approval then send the City the bill is a practice that needs to stop. Just because you are on City Council does not mean you can do as you want then stick the city paying the bill.

    Mike you listed things that should be talked about and done now instead of pushing off til later. It is not like the city has gotten new info that they will not have extra money for things. City Council has adult members. It is time for the adults to make the tough decisions instead of putting it off til a later time.

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