Ironton leaders, citizens to talk dollars, #039;sense#039;

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 20, 2005

Ironton's 2005 operating budget has gone from bad to worse, as far as Mayor John Elam is concerned.

It has been well documented the city is on shaky financial ground as it continues to spend approximately $500,000 more than it brings in each year and has several more hurdles on the horizon.

Still, Elam said the picture looks worse the more he delves into the budget and that it is time to come up with a plan that makes sense.

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"Our problems are not going away," Elam said Tuesday of a budget that projects the city to spend all of its $400,000 carryover by the end of the year. "We have done an excellent job keeping our expenses in check. Our revenue seems to be what is missing. This is the story that has been told for the last three to five years.

"We are going to have to take a look to see if we want to maintain services or reduce or eliminate them."

With that in mind, the Ironton City Council will have a special meeting at 6 p.m. tonight to allow open discussion among council and the audience. Elam said he would like to see an open dialogue and discussion that could help create ideas and opportunities.

"Last year, the $10 municipal fee was rejected," Elam said. "This year, we need to come up with a new plan for revenue generation."

The city faces a number of financial hurdles including fixing the spending deficit, generating $150,000 to fund the floodwall program that voters declined to fund in November and drafting and implementing the Environmental Protection Agency's mandated Combined Sewer Overflow plan that could ultimately cost the city $20 million over the next 20 years.

The only solution on the horizon is the reciprocity change that was passed last year but that will not really help until 2006.

Chairman Jim Tordiff believes an even bigger problem may be looming if the Ohio Legislature reduces the local government funding that provides the city with nearly $500,000 each year.

Tordiff said he can not support a budget that does not take this into account by looking at some other type of revenue - even if it is not the $10 fee that he still passionately supports.

To make matters worse, many problems that the city could face are not even included in the budget such as employees retiring, owed comp time, health care cost increases and equipment replacement.

"A lot of times there is speculation that trouble is around the corner. I think that everyone realizes we are right in the middle of it," Tordiff said. "It is not coming, we are right in the middle of a financial crisis."

Councilman Bill Nenni agreed that the city faces challenges but he emphasized that he will do his part to make sure the city does not end in the red.

"I have not seen the budget yet but I personally will not pass a budget with negative carryover," Nenni said, adding that he would be disappointed if that is what is presented. "If that is the best (the mayor) can do, we will deal with it and do what we have to do."