Citizens weigh in on balance of fees versus services

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Two communities but with one common problem.

The big question in Coal Grove and Ironton remains - Is it more important to maintain services or keep fees and taxes low?

Leaders in the city and the village have both been wrestling with ways to maintain the current level of services. Unfortunately, many of those ideas involve hitting residents in their pocketbooks.

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Ironton leaders have considered asking the voters to increase the 1-percent income tax by a half percent to generate $800,000 a year. Other ideas include adjusting the city's reciprocity agreement, adding a municipal fee for residents or creating an inspection fee for rental property.

In Coal Grove, the village council has debated increasing the water rates by at least $1 per thousand gallons - a hike that would cost the average water user an extra $6 a month.

So, what do the people think? More than dozen Ironton and Coal Grove residents spoke up on both sides of the issue but many declined to go on record with their names.

"I want the people in authority to be (fiscally) responsible. They have to make sure they are managing the money properly," said Ironton resident Linda Remy. "But if we have to increase taxes to maintain our services, I would say go for it."

Ironton senior citizen Norma Thompson agreed that it may be acceptable if it is the only option left.

"They have got to do what they have to just to keep the city afloat," she said. "If you get down to brass tacks, they need to make the ones who owe the city and county taxes actually pay them."

Other citizens said they would not be as willing to fork over more hard-earned money. Tim Gearhart, owner of downtown business Tim's News & Novelties, questioned the level of services already provided.

"I think in Ironton's case, I believe many people like me have seen the city have (lots of) of employees, many more than they have now, but we still don't see the services," Gearhart said. "The street sweeper ran this Sunday for the first time in at least three or four months."

Gearhart said he does not believe the city has spent money wisely during past administrations and now has a hard time justifying giving up more money.

"They have put a tax issue on the ballot several times and it was soundly defeated. I think it is because people don't feel like they are getting what we should be getting now," he said. "Until the city can show me they can grade and gravel an alley, which should be a simple thing, I don't think I could support giving them more money."

In Coal Grove, the situation is different but remains the same issue at heart - services versus fees.

The village laid off much of its workforce late last year because financial troubles. Now, council has debated raising the water rates to help put at least three employees back to work so the city can maintain its street paving, grass cutting, trash pickup and other services.

Long-time resident Ray Bentley served on council for six months last year to fill an unexpired term. He voted to lay off the employees. Though he no longer has any political pull, he said he would certainly not support a water increase.

"I would not be in favor of a rate increase," he said. "There are so many people who are on a fixed income that can barely pay their water bill now."

"If you bring these people back right now, the village will be right back in the same shape or worse than we were before we laid them off. I don't have the answers, but I do not feel the senior citizens should have to bail (council) out of the debt they got themselves into."

Sue Hillman of Deering is a Hecla Water customer. The village sells water to Hecla and would charge the company more, but it is unclear at this time if those increases would be passed on to the customers.

Hillman said she would not be against an increase, if it was for the good of the entire community.

"We love the water. We don't use bottled water because it is so good," she said. "To me, it would be worth it because we enjoy the park, the Christmas lights, the community center and now they are starting to get new businesses in town. So it is real convenient."

Overall, nearly everyone agreed that they hope their elected leaders listen to the community and make the right decision.