Ironton#039;s money woes need more than quick fixes
In response to the recent debate about differing budget proposals for the City of Ironton, I am compelled to explain why I co-sponsored one such proposal for consideration.
Ironton faces significant and troubling gaps between revenue and spending, which, in my opinion, demands that the city continue to restrain spending wherever and whenever possible.
Ironton has managed the fiscal crisis to date with fortitude and sacrifice, but the city economy is not growing, employment is not rising, and commercial/industrial vacancy continues to be a problem.
Unfortunately, the growth of operational costs are outpacing revenues and creating severe budget challenges now and on into the future.
It is important to understand that because tough operating decisions were delayed in prior years, the financial crisis has continued to grow unabated.
The budget proposal that I co-sponsored was a blend of ideas obtained through conversations with other members of council. It differed in several aspects from the administration's budget, but is at polar extremes with another budget that was proposed.
The areas of major disagreement include:
4Revenues - my budget held revenues constant, with some consideration of increased income from the early effects of the reduction in income tax reciprocity, the transfer of municipal court funds, and a flood protection fee.
It also displayed reductions in certain income line items that had to do with service elimination.
The other proposal likewise estimated a slight increase in the income tax revenues, maintained the service related income and included income from the court and a municipal fee.
The municipal fee, even though it has been defeated numerous times by council, was estimated to add $540,000 to revenue and bolstered a bevy of spending issues.
The administration prefers this alternative because it has taken the politically safe position to assess fees to cover the revenue gap.
Why should the administration take the risk to look inward and to further test the effectiveness of government?
True, the city already has cut services, but it needs to better examine if there are more reductions that could be made.
4Service elimination - the budget that I co-sponsored eliminated the parking department, code enforcement and street superintendent positions.
That proposed a drastic reduction in force, and challenged the administration to redistribute responsibility, position the workforce to utilize its expertise towards self-direction and truly question what benefits we receive from the inclusion of these services.
The other proposal continued the funding for the positions and provided for an increase in police and street department staffing, further burdening the cost of operations in future years.
4 Economic development - in my proposal, and in the administration's original proposal, no provisions to fund the Port Authority were made.
However, all parties understood that the Port Authority, which is currently acting as the prime vehicle for economic development in Ironton, would need some sort of financial assistance, and future provisions would probably have to be made.
The other proposal created a Port Authority department and funded it to the tune of $100,000.
A bold move, considering that no plan or details for the expense had been proposed or discussed.
4Equipment Repair and Replacement - in my proposal, and in the administration's original proposal, no provisions for any major equipment replacement were made, and normal maintenance costs were included. The other proposal, boosted by an emotional video depicting the age and current condition of city equipment, inferred that the balance of monies generated by the municipal fee assessment could be used for new equipment purchase.
However, no provisions for new equipment were outlined.
The city's financial future hinges on sound fiscal management, and working with our employees, unions, vendors
and others to find ways we can fundamentally restructure our government.
Dependence on fees will probably be a reality at some time in the future, considering the shrinking tax base, reduction in local government monies, programs mandated by government, and rising operational costs, but city leaders are going to have to make some tough choices now, which could include cutbacks or even sharing services with the county or other municipalities.
The decision to sponsor the budget was not a union issue, or a personal issue, or an effort to impinge upon the power of the mayor as accused, but simply an alternative offered for consideration.
Now is the time to explore the potential, and not blindly pass on to our citizens additional cost and continue with the status quo.
W. Brent Pyles is a longtime Ironton resident and an Ironton City Councilman.
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