Archived Story

Fee hike may not end with water

Published 12:00am Sunday, February 17, 2013

Many Ironton residents are upset over the water rate hike that will take effect next month, but they should be far more concerned with the fees they haven’t heard about yet.

Because, if I was a betting man, I would say there will be more fee increases announced in coming days — unless the city council and the mayor reverse course on its well-beaten path of ignoring the real problems and only finding solutions on the backs of the citizens.

That certainly looks like it could be the case once again.

The council approved a 3 percent increase on the city’s water rates for each of the next three years, meaning the current rate of $5.30 per thousand gallons of water will be $5.79 in 2015.

By itself, this really isn’t that bad. It is actually a smart approach to incrementally increase the rates over multiple years to keep pace with expenses.

The problem is you can’t look at the water rates without considering all the other fees on the bill, admitting that next to nothing has been done to change how the city operates and realizing that more increases are likely on the way.

In pushing for the water rate hike, Mayor Rich Blankenship’s presentation to council compared the prices of a gallon of city water to gallons of bottled water, milk and gasoline. He should have gone ahead and offered up the price of tea in China because it is just as irrelevant.

The entire exercise was grandstanding and continues to take the focus off the city’s real issues: the inability to negotiate with its unions contracts that won’t break the city.

But some city leaders aren’t worried about this because they know there are plenty of ways to get more from Ironton’s citizens, many of whom are already struggling to make ends meet.

Remember when the council increased the $8 per month municipal fee to $14 last year, with the caveat that it would be reduced to $11 in 2013? Don’t hold your breath.

Blankenship’s latest budget proposal — presented to the finance committee last week but not reviewed yet — proposes keeping the monthly fee at $14.

Why? To pay to bring all the city’s laid-off employees back and give everyone a 6 percent raise.

Never mind the fact that the employees were laid off because the city didn’t have the money to keep them, even with the fee increase and another tax hike last year, and two of the three unions refused to make any concessions on their benefit packages.

So, even though the city failed miserably by allowing the unions to dictate services and play the system by milking overtime, the plan is to reward everyone with a raise.

The employees would have to pay 7.5 percent of their retirement to offset the raises. Once payroll taxes and the fact the city would still be paying over 16 percent into retirement on now higher wages, it would be a wash at best.

It certainly wouldn’t save the city much money and would just drive the baseline of salaries up, likely requiring more increases or layoffs in the near future.

Why the city is focusing on getting the employees to pay into retirement instead of paying their fair share of insurance is baffling.

Retirement is fixed in relation to wages. Insurance goes up every year and the current plan of 95 percent paid by the city is perhaps the largest reason the city cannot sustain its budget without going back to the citizens every year or so.

I have outlined these numbers before, but here they are again in case anyone missed them.

The current health plan enrollment has 67 employees on the family plans and 16 on individual plans. Each person on the family plan costs the city about $1,333 a month. That employee pays only about $70 per month. Employees on the individual plan contribute about $31 per month with the city picking up about $597 per employee per month.

That’s a total of $1.2 million paid by the city each year with $63,551 coming from employee contributions.

Something is very wrong with that picture.

Here are some more numbers I have also outlined before but they haven’t changed or, if they have, they have likely gotten worse.

The median household income in Ironton is a meager $28,000. According to 2009 census data, one out of every three Ironton resident lives below the national poverty level.

Yet virtually every full-time city employee makes more than this by themselves and has a benefit package that far surpass most citizens.

The mayor’s budget could include other positive changes or concessions by the unions, but right now it doesn’t look to make much sense. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there are fee increases to come for the sewer and garbage enterprise funds.

For citizens the key is to speak up now, not later. Let your councilmembers know how you feel about fees and services because some are willing to actually listen.

Speak now … or keep paying more.

 

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.

  • swampcreature

    Hopefully, this editorial is a wake-up call to our city leaders. The solution to Ironton woes isn’t fees. What is needed is to get some private-sector jobs in here in order to put some life back into this comatose city.

    Ashland just announced it will be adding Dick’s Sporting Goods, Kohl’s and a Japanese steakhouse to its city. It would be nice if our city leaders could announce something along this line instead of adding more fees to an already lengthy water bill!

    The fees could reach an astronomical level if something ever happens to Liebert.

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  • rambo

    Is Mr. Caldwell willing to give up his high salary as the editor to help those in need if so then he needs to give up his fair share like he expects those he talks about do. Till then he needs to write articles that he is willing to actually contribute to. My bet is he makes more then those he talks about. If not then lets see his last tax earnings!

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  • rambo

    Actually Mr. Caldwell as usual goes with what most liberals believe and that is that those willing to work and make money should give it to those that do not. Not saying that there are not poor in Ironton but you have to take in consideration the projects, low income housing and then be ready to make an actual amount of salary that makes up those in Ironton. Something this liberal forgot! Well like always take from the rich and give to the poor. Sounds like a good Robin Hood novel. Problem is there are too many not willing to work and expect something for nothing.

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  • deenorth

    Actually, I think Mr. Caldwell has something here… decisions are going to have to take into account that 1 out of 3 people being below the poverty level means the money is not there…it is time for the city finances to better reflect the demographics.

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  • mickakers

    To make this a little more relevant, my total outlay per month in local taxes is $590.40 at the minimum. We do not have the service of a city police or fire department as I live on the outskirts of St. Augustine (Elkton) farming country, potatoes primarily.

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  • mickakers

    Michael Caldwell; To give you an example, My Water Bill at the present time here in St. Augustine is: Base; $12.08, Per 1,000 gallons; $3.07, Wastewater base; $11.59, Usage charge per 1,000 gallons; $3.66 for a total of $30.40, this is the base monthly rate. I don’t know anyone who pays this base rate. In actuality it is tit for tat. I pay a $543.00 a month taxes & community fee for service rendered and also $204.00 a year for trash pick-up. Maybe you can use this for comparison.

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  • mickakers

    I find it interesting that the publisher of this newspaper continues to cast aspersions on the city’s two unions. He continues in his failure to grasp the fact that the benefit package of the city employees is a basic part of their salary. They have given up monetary compensation in order to receive these paid benefits. I wonder, would the publisher of the Tribune be willing to take this percentage cut in his pay? In this day and age the cost of everything has gone up and this includes services. If we desire the services, we must be willing to pay for them in a equitable and just way. The publisher is using data from 2009, this is outdated by four years and misleading. And, just how is this median income determined? I think you will also find this misleading. Median income does not denote a just and fair wage. The unions are not asking for anything more, just the status quo, if my understanding is correct.

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