City#039;s budget should include more talks

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Tribune editorial staff

Ironton City Council's Finance Committee made a wise decision by not recommending an amended budget to the full council yet.

While most of the budget appears to be in good shape, projected budget overruns in the health department and the police department are in the $20,000 range. Both of these departments are crucial to the well-being of the citizens of Ironton.

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Constrained by local, state and federal economic downturns, the city must deal with looming budget issues. City leaders have few options for raising money to pay for government services, yet the city's residents still need them. With declining revenues, however, something has to give.

Because of an unexpected state estate tax, the general fund has approximately $180,000 more than expected. Sixty-seven percent of the general fund is derived from taxes, including the city's 1-percent income tax, property and state taxes. The rest of the money comes from court costs and fines, service charges, parking meters, licensing fees, interest, transfers and sale of assets.

Citizens have already said they do not want tax increases. Just look at the November 2001 election when voters shot down the proposed three-year, 0.45-percent increase to the municipal income tax by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin. That increase was supposed to give the city a three-year time frame to work on recruiting business while keeping the general fund afloat

In a down economy, the city was left approving raises for which it really didn't have money. The city doled out raises

to police, fire and AFSCME unions while looking at a tight budget.

These folks deserved their raises, especially since they opted to forgo raises two years ago to help the city out of its financial troubles. However, it is virtually impossible to save essential city services and slash costs at the same time without touching salaries -- or even cutting jobs. Salaries and benefits are the largest part of any budget.

The Finance Committee needs to study the budget from top to bottom before making any amendments. Although the budget is already lean, they may be able to find a little fat by taking a closer look.