City#039;s financial options to be aired at forum

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Layoffs may be an inevitability next week, but city leaders and union representatives still hope to put their heads together to solve some of the city's financial problems.

The Ironton City Council, in partnership with Mayor John Elam and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 771, will host an open forum at 6 p.m. Thursday on the third floor of the city center

to discuss ideas to narrow the city's gap of more than $500,000 between revenues and expenses.

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City leaders have considered asking voters in November to increase the 1-percent income tax by a half percent to generate an additional $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.

Thursday's meeting will provide a forum for these and other ideas to be brought to the table. However, unless a last-minute solution presents itself, 10 city employees will be laid off May 1.

"Being at the 11th hour, initially there will be layoffs. We are just trying to keep them as short as possible," Elam said. "It is just a matter of fact, these layoffs will negatively impact the services provided by the city."

Eight of the 51-member AFSCME union will be without jobs - three employees in the sanitation department, three in the street department, a water department clerk and either the meter maid or a custodian once those two positions are combined.

Two non-union administrative employees will also be laid off - the assistant code enforcement officer and the facilities manager. The vacant position of economic development director will not be filled.

The effect to city services could include streets not getting repaired as quickly, slower garbage pickup, slower yard waste removal and more, Elam said.

Councilman Jesse Roberts said he hopes that city employees and community members do not expect a cure-all to come out of the meeting.

Making decisions that affect the livelihoods of the city employees is not an enviable position, but these tough decisions have become necessary, Roberts said.

"Until the economic climate of Ironton changes, whether the citizens vote for an increase in fees or an income tax increase or some economic development happens, we are at a place, to me, where the financial problems are not temporary," Roberts said.

"I believe it gives a false sense of hope to the workers to say this is a temporary layoff. It depends on your definition of temporary. If an income tax increase is placed on the ballot, even if it passes, we are over a year and a half away from seeing the revenue because the way income tax is paid."

Still, Elam and union leaders hope that some changes can shorten the layoffs.

"The 2004 budget has been referred to as a living document. This means we can make changes as needed," Elam said. "Expenses have been looked at. Now we have the opportunity to reevaluate our revenue line items."

Ideally, Elam said he would just like to see positive steps towards efficiency and cooperation come out of Thursday's meeting.

"Ironton has fallen against tough economic times, but I am subscribing to the theory that, collectively, we can overcome the challenges and obstacles we are facing, rather than trying to do it alone," Elam said. "We want all the citizens of Ironton to please join in because this will affect the future of everyone in Ironton."

Union president Joe Johnson echoed Elam's sentiments.

"It is not going to be an easy fix. We need the support of the community,"

Johnson said. "We are trying to solve the city's financial crisis, but we need the community's input on whether or not people will support an income tax increase. If people won't support it, council needs to know."

Though still a possibility, Johnson said it is too soon to talk about a strike. Last month, the union unanimously voted to authorize a strike but have not yet given the official notice that is required to begin the process.

"I can't say if we will strike or not without sitting down with council. We are trying to work this out," Johnson said. "A strike is the final straw. We hope it does not come to that."