• 57°

Council OKs budget, still debating fees

Ironton finally has a financial plan in place for the year but that doesn't mean that everyone is happy about it.

After months of debate, often heated and contentious, the Ironton City council adopted a 2005 budget Thursday that will carry the city through the year, despite the urging of Chairman Jim Tordiff.

Several types of fees were discussed as the meeting did end with a hint of compromise as several members said they will support placing a municipal fee on the ballot in November.

The adopted budget relies on the carryover until the $15 fee can be put on the November ballot for the people to decide on. The plan keeps the city's staffing the same, does not include any pay increases, allocates $5,000 to the Ironton Port Authority and removes all funding to the city swimming pool.

Following all the discussions of recent months some may consider passing any budget a positive step, Mayor John Elam is not one of those people.

"I think it will be very hard to provide services for the city from the budget that was passed," Elam said, clearly disappointed that the plan that included a municipal fee and additions to the police and street departments did not pass. "We will continue to do our very best to provide for the health, safety and wellness of our residents."

Tordiff was more emphatic with his pleas throughout the meeting.

"Guys, I beg you not to do this," he said to council before the budget vote. "This city is never going to resurrect itself if we don't attempt to correct the problems."

Once all the debate ended, the plan passed by a 5-2 vote. Tordiff and Chuck O'Leary voted against it. Jesse Roberts, Bill Nenni, Richard Price, Brent Pyles and Bob Isaac voted for the plan.

Many of the supporters remained quiet but have stood by the fact that they do not believe the citizens support a fee. Isaac defended his plan as a way to get through the year to allow the voters to decide on a fee in November.

Earlier in the meeting, Elam showed some calculations depicting a bleak picture for the city's future.

"The city of Ironton will have no money by May 2006 unless things change drastically," Elam said.

So, much of the city's financial fate will likely be left in the hands of the voters. Council did give first reading to an amended municipal fee proposed by O'Leary. Revenue would go to the police department and would cost households $11.75 per month for the rest of the year and only $7.50 per month in 2006 and 2007.

The monthly fee was reduced because of new household totals - nearly 6,000 compared with the 4,700 from previous calculations. This change allows the fee to cost residents less per month but still generate the same amount of money - about $600,000 in 2006 and 2007.

"I think this is a wonderful compromise," he said. "It was given to us out of engineering."

Legislation that ask voters to amend the charted to include the $15 fee was tabled until it can be amended and reintroduced closer to the election.

The other fee everyone has been talking about, the storm water utility that will generate $1.2 million year, was given first reading but referred to the city attorneys for review. City engineer Phil Biggs said it will cost residential households $14.55 per month initially, but will cost commercial and industrial companies much more. The cost is determined by the amount of runoff surface - roof, parking lot, blacktop - a property includes.

The entire purpose of the fee is to allow the city to adopt and implement the Environmental Protection Agency's mandated Combined Sewer Overflow plan and to maintain and improve the city's storm water system as required by the city's EPA permits.

Developing the CSO plan by the December deadline may cost more than $860,000 and actually implementing the plan could cost the city $20 million over the next 20 years. The plan is to determine the volume of pollutants that go into the Ohio River and to minimize untreated discharges.

North Ironton resident John Albrink questioned why it will cost Ironton residents so much but may not cost residents of other communities as steep of fees.

"Somewhere along the way, I feel we are getting taken on this," he said. "Š I think that there needs to be some investigation and you all can do it."

Biggs explained that Ironton's fee is more expensive because the poor condition of the 53-miles of sewer system, the low rates on water and sewer services and the type of systems.

"If we use Portsmouth's water and sewer rates, we would have an extra $250,000 a year in revenue," he said.

Council unanimously approved resolutions commending the Ironton High School girls and boys basketball teams for their outstanding seasons and to commend the school's drama department for its production of "Damn Yankees."

The meeting closed with some sense of compromise. Roberts said he would be willing to remove wording to the charter change so that it would not affect nursing homes and assisted living. Price said he will do all he can to help an amended municipal fee get passed in November.

"We need to get behind this issue and support it and move the city forward," Price said.

Council also took the following actions:

4Approved a resolution authorizing applying for of Community development Block Grant to allow the St. Lawrence O'Toole Assisted living project to move forward. The plan would create an assisted living center in the former school next to the church and create a minimum of 19 new jobs.

4Heard first reading of an ordinance to create a fire and arson investigation unit within the Ironton Fire Department. Fire chief Tom Runyon would head the unit.

4Heard first reading of an ordinance to amend the city ordinances involving drinking under the influence of alcohol to conform with state codes.