City council at stalemate on position

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 13, 2002

With the city's financial future as the focus Thursday, the Ironton City Council examined the 2003 temporary budget and deadlocked in a 3-3 tie on a resolution that would provide for the position of economic development director.

Council heard the first reading of the temporary operating budget for the fiscal year ending Dec. 31, 2003, but there was debate over certain expenditures.

Councilman Jim Tordiff was opposed to salary increases for six clerks in the Ironton Municipal Court. Under Ohio law, the judge sets the salaries of clerks if the department generates more money than it spends.

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Tordiff said that he is not contesting that the clerks deserve the raises that he figured to be a 12 to 17 percent increase, but does not think the funds should be used for salary simply because the department made more money than it spent.

"I am very much opposed to increases for one department, and I would feel this way if it was outside the municipal court," he said. "We are a team and if that department is generating money let us use it to save the whole organization."

Not in attendance at the meeting, Judge Clark Collins said that the increases are desperately needed because the Municipal Court lost a full-time employee, only hired a part-time replacement and the clerk and four deputy clerks have all taken on additional duties.

After operating more efficiently than ever before and ending with more revenue than expenditures in 2002, Collins said he took advantage of a much-needed opportunity for these pay increases.

"These clerks have been far underpaid for years compared to other local courts," he said. "I consider this as setting a proper salary structure instead of giving them a raise."

Collins said they did not determine the increase on a set percentage and just tried to make the pay comparable to the Lawrence County Municipal Court in Chesapeake – although it is still not equal.

For the first time in the 20 years that he has been there, the court has generated revenue and, although unsure of an exact amount, Collins said that even with the raises the court will still contribute revenue to the general fund.

"We are self-sufficient and will not cost the city anything," he said. "These clerks have worked hard and done an excellent job."

If the budget passes, the raises will take effect Jan. 1 in the temporary budget. A finalized budget must be adopted by March 31, 2003.

Although the consensus from council was that it would benefit the city in the future, a resolution seeking to add the position of economic development director to the budget failed on a 3-3 vote.

"In light of our economic and financial state we would be well served to have someone work for the city solely for the purpose of economic development," Councilman John Elam said.

Elam, Tordiff and Councilman Bob Isaac voted for the resolution. Council Chairman Jesse Roberts and Councilmen Brent Pyles and Richard Price voted against the resolution. Councilman Bob Lipker was absent.

The three councilmen said they opposed it because Mayor Bob Cleary was still looking into hiring someone on a part-time contractual basis and because they had not had a chance to thoroughly discuss it with Finance Director Cindy Anderson.

"I just feel it is premature to say whether we could even fund this position," Price said. "I think it is something where we should wait and see what we have in the final numbers of 2002."

But Tordiff and Elam both said they would like to see it made a top priority and prefer it to be a full time position.

Tordiff said he had hoped to see the resolution pass because it would "show that it is a priority not dependent on a carryover balance and show that we will make a priority of it even if it takes cuts in other places."

"I think we have done positive things to lay the groundwork, like purchasing the former Solvey plant," he said. "But I would like to see a full-time employee – eight hours a day. I think a lot of cities our size has positions like this in their budget."

Mayor Cleary said he is not opposed to the idea of a full-time employee but would like to see the issue tabled until more research could be done.