City Council going around and around

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

Ironton City Council's wheels keep spinning but the two sides remain pointed in opposite directions on fixing the city's financial crisis.

Despite lots of back and forth debates in a three-hour meeting Thursday, the group was unable to find a middle ground between living within its means and implementing a monthly fee of at least $10. Two drastically different budget proposals were both only given one of the three necessary readings before being sent to the finance committee for review.

"If you can't see where this city is at right now, then there is no hope," Councilman Chuck O'Leary said, reemphasizing that he and Chairman Jim Tordiff support a $15 monthly fee that is included in their budget. "I can't convince (the majority)."

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Remaining on the side favoring cuts and asking the voters in November about the fee, councilmen Jesse Roberts, Brent Pyles, Richard Price, Bill Nenni and Bob Isaac remained adamant that the people they contacted by do not support the fee.

"Don't you think it would easier to just pass the $15 fee and not put up with the ridicule and heartache and to hate coming down here. But that is not where I am at. I am still not convinced that the people support a $15 fee," Roberts said. "How do you compromise when one person won't compromise at all? It is $15 or nothing and I can't do $15."

Both budgets were sent to finance to be looked at again - though each is similar to previous versions. Something must be adopted by the end of the month.

The newest version of a plan by O'Leary and Tordiff includes a $15 per month municipal fee that would allow hiring three additional police officers, two street workers, keeping the city swimming pool open, funding the port authority, keeping the parking meter department in place and using $300,000 of the $543,177 carryover for equipment replacement. Similar versions have been voted down twice.

Councilman Isaac sponsored the other budget but it is similar to a plan originally proposed by Roberts and Pyles that was tabled. The major difference in the plans is that this version does not eliminate the building code officer, the flood/street/sanitation superintendent positions and parking meter department as its predecessor did.

Most of the supporters of that budget also support a law given first reading that would place the $15 per fee on the November ballot for voters to decide as part of a charter change. Nursing homes, group homes and assisted living facilities would pay $1 per bed or the $15 fee, whichever is greater.

Maybe the most creative idea came from the audience. South Ironton resident Craig Harvey proposed an income-based maintenance fee that ranges from $3 per month per household up to as much as $15 for households that earn more than $50,000 a year. The plan would generate as much as $550,000 a year.

"This is my community and I care about my city," Harvey said. "Š All I'm asking is that we don't go without, that we don't endanger our city workers, that we don't endanger our police officers and let's move forward."

Council members applauded him for his efforts that at least brought a new idea to be considered. Some were concerned that the income figures to base the fee off of would be difficult to obtain and may fall into a gray area. Tordiff said he liked the idea but would like to see it generate closer to $900,000 to address needs in the police department, equipment replacement and economic development.

"This may very well just be a bite out of the apple but at least it is a start," Harvey said.

Afterwards, Finance Director Cindy Anderson said the plan would be nearly impossible to administer because it is illegal to require someone to prove their annual income.

Overall, the meeting was subdued though council spent several minutes debating whether Tordiff should be allowed to go off topic during audience participation portion of the meeting.

"I think we need to hear all we can from the audience," Isaac said. "You can express your opinions when we discuss an ordinance or resolution. I don't think it is a forum for you to push your agenda."

Tordiff, who often admits that he sounds like a broken record, continued to outline his views, saying that it is for the benefit of the audience and the viewers on Ohio University Southern's broadcasts.

"I feel as though this council has caused for me to take drastic actions," he said. "I feel as though this council is on the wrong side of taking care of the well being and health and safety of its employees and its citizens."

At least a handful of those citizens spoke. JoLinda Heaberlin, owner of Jo-Lin Health Center, was proud to say that she has signed recall petitions for at least two members - Price and Roberts.

"Unless there is some ulterior motive, why can't we pass something to save our city?" she asked. "ŠI do not understand. Our city is going down the tubes."

Even before police union chief Pam Wagner pleaded with council to provide the department that is down to nine officers on the roads with some help, Tordiff hung up a chart showing how many officers Ironton had compared to other areas.

Even when all are healthy, Ironton has one officer for every 934 citizens, compared to what Tordiff said was the accepted level of one officer for every 500 people, Tordiff said. Ashland, Ky., is nearly double Ironton's size but has 50 officers. Jackson has 20 officers but only 6,500 residents.

"I don't know if that hits as home for everyone as it does for me," Tordiff said. "It is phenomenal."