CAO seeks additional funds for development

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 24, 2003

Everyone agrees that economic development is vital to the community, but the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization wants county and city officials to realize just how expensive it can be.

In part because the CAO's Community Development Department ended with a $100,000 deficit in 2003, Ralph Kline, community development director, has asked city and county leaders to budget more money to fund the department's grant-seeking projects.

During the past few years, both the city and county have allocated $35,000 each to pay for the CAO's planning and administration costs. For 2004, the CAO is asking that $85,000 be budgeted.

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"We are in a bad situation, a crisis situation. We want to make them aware of that situation," Kline said. "We will continue to serve any way we can. We have a common goal with the city and the county, and that is to see improvements made in the community."

Both the city and county leaders were notified in August that some changes would be needed.

This year's deficit has contributed to the community development department not filling two vacant positions and may limit the amount of work that can be done in the future, Kline said.

In 2003, the CAO helped the county and the various villages receive or obtain tentative approval for approximately $3 million in grants, Kline said.

For 2004, the CAO is seeking $2.3 million for the city.

Kline said the department will try to operate on a fee-for-services basis and follow three funding methods to minimize expenses from general revenue.

The first method will be to seek grants to pay for as much of the administrative costs as possible. The second will be to build these costs into the overall project so all fees will be accounted for, and lastly to bill against

the money set aside in the budget.

Kline said that the $85,000 is just an estimate and the CAO may not require that much because the "best-case scenario" would be that each entity would only use $35,000.

"We will do what we can with what we have to work with," Kline said. "But, what we have to work with will limit what we can do."

While both city and county officials emphasized the importance of the CAO, tight budgets remain big concerns.

Both must adopt a temporary budget by Jan. 1 and a permanent budget by March 31.

Lawrence County Commission President George Patterson said that Kline and the CAO have been crucial to the county, but at this early stage of budget planning, it looks like setting this amount aside may be difficult.

"As a person, and I am not speaking for the other commissioners, I do not see how we can do it," Patterson said. "If things change and the money is there, we will certainly work with the CAO on this request."

Because worker's compensation and other costs may increase, Patterson said it is important that all the departments under the county work to cut costs.

"We are going to be walking a tightrope, as far as money is concerned," Patterson said. "Hopefully, we can get everyone to work together to operate efficiently."

Ironton Mayor John Elam agreed that maintaining this partnership is important to the community.

"The CAO has provided a host of services to City of Ironton for a number of years," Elam said. "I would look forward to a strong and continuing relationship with CAO in providing supportive services to the residents of Ironton, Ohio."

Elam said he shares the budget concerns and that it is important to maintain a positive financial position as officials develop the 2004 budget.

"I look forward to working closely with council and getting its input on the request as we continue the budgeting process," he said.

Looking ahead, Kline recommends that the city and county create an economic development fund that could be used for development costs or securing matching funds for grants.