Ironton officials look to add to industrial park

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 27, 2004

Ironton officials are working feverishly to attract a second tenant and up to 20 jobs to the city's industrial park, but the clock is ticking.

Mayor John Elam informed city council Thursday that a "very firm, solid" nationwide retail/wholesale company is interested in locating in a 5,000-square foot building that sits vacant in the South Ironton Industrial Park. The firm would only be interested in the approximately 3-acre site if an additional 5,000-square foot addition was added by the end of the year.

The company would use the facility as a warehouse and office site. Within 3 years, the business could employ 15 to 20 people with salary and benefit packages ranging from $25,000 to $80,000. Elam projected that the company, which currently has 60 locations across the country and may be working on acquiring 40 more, could have an annual payroll of $500,000.

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So, what is the catch? The company needs to be operating in the building, which still needs interior development, within 90 days.

"This is probably the most fast-tracked project I have ever known of," Elam said. "They want an answer by Tuesday."

To that end, council unanimously agreed to support the mayor in the development process that will require the property to be transferred to a community improvement corporation, most likely the Lawrence Economic Development Corporation. Entities such as these are not bound by the same processes governments are and therefore can act more quickly.

City Engineer Phil Biggs said he believes the best way to proceed would be to allow the CIC to sell the property to someone in the private sector looking to make an investment. The city would get some undetermined amount of the sale and the private investor would have to remodel the interior, construct the addition and build a parking lot.

The company will not enter into a lease longer than 5 years and will not spend more than $7,500 per month in rent, insurance and taxes. These parameters mean that the investor will have to be someone with enough capital to enter into the project for the long term, Biggs said.

As a whole, everyone on council voiced their excitement for the prospect of adding new jobs to the community and continuing to develop the park.

"Visually, it shows other prospective tenants that something is going on there," Council chairman Jim Tordiff said. "Certainly we would like to have more than 15 jobs, but it is a start."

Elam also indicated that other economic development discussions are in the works.

"Under the surface, there are a lot of bubbles happening right now," Elam said. "If they all surface and erupt, it will be very positive in the near future."

By far, the biggest topic of debate was the proposed 50-percent reduction of the reciprocity agreement that affects how residents working elsewhere pay their income taxes. Several citizens spoke out against the proposal that was only given a second reading. It will be voted on at the next regular meeting.

According to Ohio law, employees pay an income tax where they work, but if there is no income tax there, they pay where they live. If the plan would be approved, Ironton residents who work in neighboring municipalities with an income tax, such as Portsmouth or Ashland, Ky., would also have to pay half of Ironton's income tax. Currently, those individuals are not required to pay anything to Ironton.

"I think you are punishing people for going out and trying to better themselves," said resident Laura Jones. She added that she worked within the city for years for nearly minimum wage and had to seek employment across the river.

Rusty Mittendorf agreed that it would place an unfair burden on some.

"I ask you to consider a fair tax or some sort of utility fee across the board for all residents," he said.

Other residents want to see the issue changed a different way. Residents who work in

Boyd County are already required to pay that region's 1-percent tax,

but are still required to pay Ironton’s 1-percent tax because the reciprocal agreement only applies to municipalities, not an entire county. These individuals would like to see their taxes reduced by a half percent.

Councilman Tordiff agreed with the residents that reciprocity is not the answer but he emphasized that something does need to be done soon.

"The money from reciprocity won't be in until April 2006. I really think this should have been addressed 24 months ago," he said. "If we wait until April 2006, we are worsening the problem."

Also, members of the Friends of Ironton community group thanked the city employees, the mayor, the police and fire department for their cooperation with the Rally on the River. The group indicated that all the money will go back to Ironton and that this is just the start of more to come.

Council emphasized that it is the Friends that deserve the thanks and they formally showed that by adopting a resolution commending the group.

"I did not have one negative comment. Everyone I talked to was positive," Councilman Jesse Roberts said. "I think that says a lot about the quality of the event and the way it was organized."

In other business, Council agreed that it will consider legislation asking the Ohio Department of Transportation to look at the option of establishing off-ramps from the bridge approach that would connect to the property between the railroad tracks and the river. An increased access could promote future development in this area of the city.

Council also authorized the mayor to execute a $4,700 contract with EMH&T Inc. of Gahanna to develop a multi-tiered stormwater utility fee that will be based on the amount of property and surface area someone owns that creates runoff.