Will city leaders ever leap budget crevasse?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 29, 2004

Did you feel the earth shift a bit last Thursday night? The rumblings directly coincide with each of the last several Ironton City Council meetings.

Although Ironton is approximately 2,500 miles from the infamous San Andreas Fault, the rumblings below the surface make it seem as if Ironton was deep in the heart of earthquake country.

The gash created on the surface of the city a month or so ago seems to widen each week, and it makes one wonder if an end is in sight.

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On one side of the growing crevasse is Mayor John Elam, backed by at least two councilmen and a few dozen union workers with the city.

On the opposing side is a group of five councilmen and at least a few dozen citizens.

The city's finances are deep within the crevasse. With each expansion of the chasm, the city's financial picture becomes deeper, darker and murkier.

And, for the last few Thursdays, each side has carefully walked up to the crevasse, looked down, shook their heads and then proceeded to disagree as to how to overcome the growing ravine. Across the ravine, one side will yell an idea only to have the other side dismiss it quickly. This goes on for a couple of hours until out of frustration both sides agree to try again next week.

The scene in reminiscent of the famous "Peanuts" cartoon in which Lucy keeps pulling the football out the way just as Charlie Brown lets loose a good kick shot.

The whole process might be funny if the stakes were not so serious. Unfortunately, this isn't a game and it isn't the latest TV reality show, people's lives are at stake - not to mention the future viability of our city.

One side seems to want to throw money - in the way of a $10 municipal fee - at the problem in hopes it will go away. Their logic is: approve the fee, hire back some of the laid-off workers and get on with business. This seems like a quick-fix method. It might resolve the immediate need, but the trend of the city's budget,

spending more than it is making, will continue to worsen.

On the other side, the general consensus seems to be, "we're happy to give you some more money, but we want to see the goods before we make the purchase." Their logic is, before we throw good money after bad, let's make sure we know where the money is needed and that it will be spent wisely. They ask, "Have we really tried to rework schedules and plans to make things work well with less city staff?" Essentially, they want to get rid of all the "we've always done it that way" excuses and move into the future.

Holding hands across the crevasse, trying to figure out which side is "correct," is the bulk of the populace, who are disgruntled that such an issue continues to go unresolved.

They don't mind paying more for city services, if necessary. But they do mind handing their hard-earned money over to a group of "leaders" who cannot get along long enough to work through a problem.

So which side is correct? Both and neither. Both sides have some logic, but neither side alone has the answer, or the power to resolve the issue without help.

Until all involved can sit down and talk about the issues and come to a resolution, Ironton's future will continue to look as bleak as that large crevasse that keeps growing.

Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Tribune. He may be reached at (740) 532-1445 ext. 12 or by e-mail to kevin.cooper@irontontribune.com.