Archived Story

Budget discussed by finance committee

Published 10:02am Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It has long been said that budgets are living, breathing things that constantly change. If Wednesday’s meeting of Ironton City Council’s finance committee is any indication, that adage holds true.

Ironton Mayor Rich Blankenship and finance director Kristen Martin joined the committee and dove knee-deep in discussions on allocating the city’s $5 million operating budget, which marks the beginning of what committee members and city administrators agree is an arduous process. Getting a 2014 budget in place, however, may come easier and more quickly than originally anticipated.

“We’re closer right now than we have been in the past couple years at this point,” Aaron Bollinger, finance committee member, said. “Of everything we’ve talked about I’m not hearing anything really negative. I’m impressed with it. It’s a great starting point.”

The floodwall levy, which expires in 2015, was discussed early in the meeting. The levy is a .10 mill for every $100 of property taxes collected and generated $125,000 in 2013 and is renewable every five years.

“Replacing pumps is a large expense in regard to the floodwall,” Martin said. “If one tears up, it is virtually irreplaceable.”

Blankenship added the importance the pumps serve in the event of flooding.

“We are dealing with 1941 model pumps,” he said. “These pumps are the city’s first line of protection.”

Committee member Kevin Waldo expressed concern about whether voters will approve the renewal of the levy.

“I think we’ll have a hard time passing that,” Waldo said.

Blankenship referred to the recreation levy that was approved in the November election and said getting the word out and educating people about the levy’s importance should result in its passing, just as it did for the recreation levy.

Although Bollinger praised the budget overall, what the city pays for employees’ health insurance he saw as cause for concern.

“In 2012 we were looking at employees paying 10 percent of their retirement and 20 percent of their healthcare,” he said. “What people don’t realize is what you get paid isn’t just what you bring home, add $30,000 to it for what your employer pays for your healthcare. You make that, too.”

The city is facing a 9 percent increase in employee health insurance, which totaled $1,529,580 in 2013 and the looks to be $137,662 more in 2014.

Waldo said employees paying 30 percent more per paycheck would mean around $300 every two weeks in take-home pay, which just wasn’t feasible.

“We need to remember we agreed to pay more of their benefits in lieu of giving them raises,” Martin said.

Waldo added that 30 percent of the entire budget goes directly to employee health benefits and a tight budget resulted in nearly a dozen people getting laid off in 2012.

“We always do a worst-case scenario in accounting,” Martin said. “There may be a cushion some places in this budget, but there’s just no way to predict anything.”

Several city departments will undergo union negotiations next year. The entire public works department, as well as fire department’s salary and health insurance and the police department’s salary and pension.

The committee voted favorably to recommend several budget-related ordinances to council at its meeting Thursday night; Ordinance 13-76 to amend the operating budget; ordinance 13-78 authorizing the mayor to enter into a contract with Ohio University Southern for police patrol; ordinance 13-80 for chemical purchases; ordinance 13-83 for the purchase of concrete and other materials.

Waldo, Bollinger, Bob Cleary, Craig Harvey and Philip Heald attended the meeting.

Ironton City Council will hold its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday on the third floor of the City Center.

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