Fee hike may not end with waterPublished 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeCaldwell_IT.