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Ironton Council talks budget, makes no progress

They talked some more, but they didn't come to any agreements.

The four members of the Ironton City Council who showed up for Thursday's late evening budget workshop met for two and a half hours and then left without working out any solutions that will create a new, balanced budget.

The stalemate has prompted one councilman to mention resigning from the board.

There were three empty seats at the front of the room when the budget workshop began: Council members Bill Nenni, Chuck O'Leary, Brent Pyles and Jim Tordiff attended the meeting; absent were Richard Price, Robert Isaac and Jesse Roberts.

Council chairman Jim Tordiff suggested that if those present could reach agreements on some key issues, they could take these agreements home and perhaps come back at a later date with new tools to hammer out a budget, particularly one that is balanced, allots more money for additional police officers and police equipment and provides money for the fledgling port authority.

The issue of additional police officers and newer, proper equipment for them is essential, Mayor John Elam said,

to have "police presence rather that police response. We need to be proactive."

"Can the four of us here tonight, by a show of hands or voicing your approval, is there any possible way we can sit down tonight and look at some kind of revenue producing item?" Tordiff asked.

"There is no doubt that we need more money," Pyles said. "I'm not trying to minimize the issues but we have to be good stewards. If we end up with a municipal fee then that's what we're here for. But I'm not willing to agree to anything tonight with three members absent."

Tordiff said he was willing to compromise on the issue of a municipal fee - something less than the $15 fee that has been proposed. He also asked if those present had any other ideas for raising revenue.

Some ideas suggested were to reduce the reciprocity agreement from 50 percent to zero, meaning the city would charge a 1 percent payroll tax to city residents even if they work outside the city and pay a payroll tax

elsewhere; to charge a rental unit inspection fee, which is believed to be able to generate $70,000 annually;

and revamping the city's codified ordinances to enable the city to keep more money from various fines.

"We really need, if not all of them, then at least the DUI ordinances," O'Leary said. "I think we're probably missing $50,000 alone in DUI fines. I think this needs to be changed as quickly as possible."

But throughout the evening, discussion returned to the municipal fee and the need for the revenue such a fee would generate.

Tordiff said he has talked to some people who said the city probably needed to enact a municipal fee of $35-$50 but conceded such a fee is unlikely.

City resident Rick McKnight took council to task for not taking some action on the municipal fee, and said he thought 85 percent of the people in Ironton would support such a fee. McKnight also chided them for the friction that has plagued recent council meetings.

"It's worth it to read the paper these days to read what's going on here and at Rock Hill (school board meetings)."

Nenni countered that he also gets phone calls and talks to people who are not in favor of the fee.

McKnight asked each council member if they would support his idea of having a straw poll that would allow city residents to give their opinion on the municipal fee by showing up at certain times at city hall

to have their opinion tallied.

Tordiff and O'Leary said they would agree to the idea, but Tordiff cautioned that city's legal counsel has told him it could only be an unofficial count or such a thing would be illegal.

Nenni and Pyles said the idea of a straw poll has a lot of logistical problems.

"I think it's too late for something like this," Pyles said.

"I still think it (the fee) should be on the ballot," Nenni said. He also said he thought the evening's meeting was to discuss two budget proposals on the table at this time, and that discussion would not focus solely on a proposed municipal fee.

"I've been here an hour and a half and I've heard one new idea," Nenni said. … "We've got budget A and budget B and we should be looking for something in between there."

Tordiff disagreed. "I don't subscribe to the theory that we don't do anything until November when the voters vote on it. I say we do what we feel is best now and educate them."

Tordiff warned that a proposal to eliminate three city positions - that of building code officer Karl Wentz, flood/street/sanitation superintendent Mike Pemberton and meter reader Carolyn Sheridan - was in violation of the city's charter and at odds with the strong mayor form of government under which the city operates.

"Council can only hire and fire the finance director, the city clerk and the city solicitor," Tordiff said. "The rest is up to the mayor. … All we can do is appropriate. The mayor gets to decide who gets cut."

Elam said any budget cuts would only delay the inevitable, and could not be considered the final solution to the city's money woes.

"If cuts were made the way they (some council members) have proposed, then the only thing you've done is to slow the bleeding," Elam said. "But you're still going to bleed out the first four months of next year. Take me to where I need to be; I need money to run this city."

He played a video that showed numerous big-ticket issues the city must address in the near future, in addition to the concerns about police protection. Among other things, the video showed

poor road conditions on Nixon Hill, lack of roadways in the South Ironton Industrial Park and a growing pile of mulch that could turn into a fire hazard.

Near the end of the meeting, Tordiff said the lengthy budget battle has left him frustrated and tired and has even considered resigning.

"If we put on a $15 fee and it gets voted down in November I would resign," Tordiff said. "We've got to educate people to make an intelligent decision in November. But you have my word, if they vote it down, I resign. I don't want to be a part of this team."

Nenni countered that Tordiff had voted against two previous ideas to put more money into the budget. Nenni said he tends to favor a change in the city's reciprocity agreement.

"The zero percent reciprocity agreement seems to be the only thing, beside a municipal fee that has a prayer of bridging that gap," Nenni said.