• 52°

Sparks fly as city still miles apart on budget

Strain showing across his suntanned face, 30-year Ironton employee Mike Pemberton left knowing about his future exactly what he knew at the beginning of the night - nothing.

"I'm going home," Pemberton said with a sigh to Mayor John Elam following city council's nearly four-hour meeting Thursday that left Pemberton and an angry audience with more questions.

The meeting centered on finding a 2005 budget before it is too late. The problem is "too late" happens to be Tuesday and lots of debate, discussion and bickering produced few tangible results.

Pemberton, the city's street, sanitation and flood superintendent and code enforcement officer Karl Wentz and meter maid Carolyn Sheridan are stuck in limbo because one plan calls for their positions to be eliminated.

"I would like you to look at these two men in their eyes and tell them, do they have jobs or not," council chairman Jim Tordiff said to his fellow members. "I don't think that is too much to ask."

All the uncertainty swirled because council had two plans on the table. A proposal sponsored by councilmen Tordiff and Chuck O'Leary balanced the budget by including a $15 per month, per household fee this year. Changes include hiring three additional police officers, two street workers, to keep the swimming pool open, funding the port authority, keeping the parking meter department in place and using some of the $543,177 carryover for equipment replacement.

The other proposal, sponsored by Jesse Roberts and Brent Pyles, focuses more on cuts. Their plan would eliminate the building code officer and the flood/street/sanitation superintendent positions. It would also remove the parking meter department and pass a $3 per month fee to fund the flood prevention system

Tordiff and O'Leary's plan was defeated 5-2, much to the disgust of the 30 or so audience members who shouted, hooted and grumbled. The other proposal was given first reading and will be heard again at a 9:30 p.m. meeting tonight and Saturday.

It won't be alone either as Tordiff reintroduced the defeated version in hopes that two members have a change of heart and will still have a reason to discuss it at noon Saturday in a budget workshop.

Likewise, Mayor Elam said afterwards he hopes that the group comes to its senses because they cannot be seeing what he sees.

"I think (these cuts) are the wrong decision at the wrong time. I think we have our head in the sand," he said. "The community came out in force to support the workers of the city and the vision of what we want to remain. I think it (the budget with cuts) is a giant step, perhaps even a leap, in the wrong direction."

"They are worried about a flood fee but would not have a flood superintendent? To not recognize the work and the work ethic of this workhorse (Pemberton), is very shortsighted."

Fees were a key part of the debate and voting may indicate which budget will be adopted. The $15 fee was voted down but the $3 plan included in Pyles and Roberts' version was adopted 4-3. In addition to O'Leary and Tordiff, Richard Price opposed it. O'Leary called the $3 fee a slap in the face to voters who nixed the levy in November.

The audience made up of employees, retirees and income taxpayers spoke up in favor of the Tordiff/O'Leary plan.

"I think it is a dirty shame that because Bob Cleary didn't get elected mayor you are going to ruin this man's career," South 11th Street resident Patty Brown said. "I would give $100 a month if it meant helping this city and saving these men's jobs."

Ellison Avenue resident Dale Clark agreed.

"The people elected you to do a job. I am embarrassed by what I see," he said.

Police Chief Bill Garland left little doubt about the plan he supported - the one that would add manpower.

"We need at least three officers just to make it safe out here. Not safe for the officers but safe for every person in this room," he said. "That is what the issue is here, not money, but the safety of the citizens of Ironton."

Pyles and Roberts defended the budget by saying it was a way of "thinking outside the box" to look at all options available.

"We had a fiance meeting and the mayor was there. I didn't hear any rebuttal," Pyles said. "We have a responsibility as this council to look at the whole budget."

Tordiff also showed council and the audience a video illustrating the condition of the city's equipment is in. Pemberton narrated as he pointed out piece of equipment after piece of equipment that had no brakes, busted floors or has had to be modified just to be usable.

"The front end on that one is wrecked because the brakes went out and they had to hit the bridge to stop it," union employee Joe Johnson called out of the audience.

Tordiff said the problem has gone on for years but has to stop now.

"How in the world can we put men in equipment like this? Would you want your sons and daughters to go up in a lift that you know just drops sometimes," Tordiff asked.

Once the smoke cleared, little appeared to have changed but the debate will likely resume tonight and continue through the weekend.