City Council looks at fiscal challenges

Published 12:00 am Saturday, August 14, 2004

To regular attendees, the focus of Thursday's Ironton City Council meeting may have invoked a sense of financial d\u00E9j&192; vu: a reciprocity agreement, the Intermet site, the combined sewer overflow plan, a municipal fee.

None of the topics are new, and none are going away any time soon.

Council unanimously adopted an amended 2004 budget that included some minor worker's compensation adjustments and a sizable income tax return request that will cost the city nearly $40,000. From there, the fiscal focus only grew.

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Once again, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's mandatory Combined Sewer Overflow long-term control plan dominated discussion. The purpose of the CSO plan is to determine the volume of pollutants that go into the Ohio River and how to minimize untreated discharges stemming from the city's 53 miles of sewers.

Developing the plan that has to be in place by December 2005 is projected to cost more than $860,000. Actually implementing it could cost the city as much as $20 million over the next 20 years, based on EPA estimates.

"It is probably safe to say this is the biggest unfounded mandate in our lifetime?" Council chairman Jim Tordiff asked City Engineer Phil Biggs.

"As I have said before, I believe this is the biggest financial undertaking the city has ever faced," Biggs said.

Council called a special meeting for 6 p.m. Thursday to focus solely on the CSO plan, the contracts needed and the storm water regulations. Council asked Biggs to provide information about how other comparable cites are handling the issue and financing it.

In other business, the group referred to the finance committee a proposed half-percent reciprocity reduction that would require people who live in Ironton but work in neighboring municipalities with an income tax,

such as Huntington, W.Va., or Ashland, Ky., to also pay half of Ironton's 1-percent income tax. Currently, those individuals pay nothing to the city.

Ironton resident Mike Pearson spoke to council and questioned the fairness of the proposal. Pearson works in Boyd County, but not Ashland, so he is already required to pay Boyd's 1-percent plus Ironton's 1-percent. He said he did not believe it would be fair that he would be paying a half percent more than someone working in Ashland.

Currently, the reciprocal agreement only applies to municipalities not an entire county. So, these changes would not cost Pearson any more but he would still be paying more than many others, he said, adding that it is time to again look at a fee that would affect all households.

"I would rather everybody pay something. I can look up and down the street in my neighborhood and only three people pay anything. They are all retired," he said, adding that he will be retired in a few years but would still be willing to pay his share. "If we don't do something we will be a laughingstock. I think we have got probably the nicest town in the whole Tri-State."

Another resident spoke against the change, emphasizing that her husband moved to Ironton to work at River Valley Hospital and was left with no choice but to go across the river once River Valley closed.

The topic of a municipal fee will be discussed again at the next finance committee meeting. A date has not yet been set.

A resolution that would authorize Mayor John Elam to pursue acquiring the Ironton Iron property on Third Street was unanimously voted down. Several council members indicated that they support the idea but some questions must to be answered before they could vote for it.

Council also authorized the mayor to seek grant funding from the Ohio Public Works Commission to repair the newest sink hole that has developed on Railroad Street.