Look ahead: City council talks future

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Mayor John Elam called communication a two-way street, and traffic was certainly flowing Thursday night.

In a four and a half hour meeting, Ironton City Council, the administration, city employees and residents talked about the city's finances and its future. There certainly was no lack of communication on this night, a problem that many have pointed to in recent months.

After all the discussion, council zipped through the agenda that included amending the 2004 budget, approving a one-month temporary 2005 budget and transferring 2-acres of property in the industrial park to the Ironton Port Authority.

Email newsletter signup

The 2004 budget adjustment will allow the city to pay the police officers and dispatchers more than $8,000 owed in overtime worked since late October. The city had the money in the general fund but had not transferred funds to the proper line item.

The reason for this was disputed; some of council said the officers should not be called out if the money is not there while others blame the problem on not transferring money soon enough.

The officers will still be owed a portion of overtime from the final pay period of December. Another budget revision will be prepared to pay the remaining money owed. That revision will be discussed at a finance meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday and in a special council meeting at 7:15.

IPD Sgt. Joe Ross said the overwhelming sentiment within the department is relief because they now know that the money is at least on the way.

"We are glad they publicly came out and said that we are going to get paid," Ross said. "I think the rest of the police department was glad to see that we had support in the council meeting."

But, the real focal point of the meeting centered on philosophical differences of whether the city needs to adopt a fee to create revenue, look more closely at managing its current resources or some combination of both. It has been well documented that the city is spending as much as $500,000 more than it brings in each year and depleting a carryover that is projected to dip as low as only a few hundred dollars at the end of 2005.

Councilman Chuck O'Leary praised everyone for coming forward and putting ideas on the table.

"I agree with almost everything said here. I think we all have a part of the puzzle," he said. "We just have to put it together."

The talks ran the spectrum from conversational to argumentative to humorous, and although all sides did not agree on every issue, every single councilman professed his willingness to make an effort for the good of the city.

This sense of teamwork was what the audience urged most.

"We have got to stop bickering and work together to move the city forward," said the always outspoken Rick McKnight, who returned for the second night after Wednesday's special session was canceled because not enough members were present. "If we don't get together, we are going to end up like River Valley Hospital."

Ironton Police Det. Jim Carey agreed with McKnight, adding that he understands that the city leaders will never please everyone but that the department can only do so much with its resources since criminals don't have to worry about overtime issues or budgets.

"The main thing we want is what is best for Ironton," he said. "Not what is best for Jim Carey but what is best for our children and our grandchildren."

"ŠI don't think you realize the problems we have. The police department is just hanging on by its teeth."

The much-debated $10 fee was again a key topic. Ultimately, each council member explained their position as to why they do or do not support the plan that has been voted down at least four times. Most of the opposition comes from the beliefs that many residents do not support any additional fees and that the city should get its other operations in order before just throwing money at the problem.

Chairman Jim Tordiff disagrees with this approach.

"If we are going to wait until we fine tune everything, we are going to be a gerbil going around and around in a cage," he said. "It will never happen."

Mike Pearson, who has attended meetings repeatedly in recent months nearly begging council to take his money, said he has had a change of heart. Instead of supporting a $10 fee, Pearson proposed a 35-cents per day fee. Laughter filled the room at that point.

Councilman Bob Isaac emphasized that they will continue to look at ways to move the city forward.

"I know this council will not let the city go bankrupt," he said. "We are awaiting the mayor's budget. We will do something and do something soon."

One area of contention came regarding council's recent action to allow City Finance Director Cindy Anderson to reduce her work load to 20 hours a week at home to accommodate some personal issues.

Tordiff disagreed with the way the agreement was adopted by five members of council but the city solicitor stated that it was legal. The chairman still said he believes that the position should be full-time, though he repeatedly pointed out that Anderson is a tremendous asset to the city and should stay in the position as long as she wants it.

In the end, council pledged to continue to look at ways to generate revenue. The Mayor said he and his staff will continue to look at ways to operate the city more efficiently.

"Gentleman, I will give my commitment to you to manage the city of Ironton," Elam said. "I need you to commit to give me the tools I need."

Elam would like a variety of financial breakdowns to be delivered weekly and monthly to help him keep his pulse on the city. With all the communication "traffic," that pulse may be ready to race.

In other business, council voted their support to the Friends of Ironton for their plans to host two community events in 2005 - the second annual Rally on the River in August and the Gus Macker Basketball Tourney in May.