Council still unclear on budget path

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 29, 2005

If Ironton’s financial woes were made into a Hollywood blockbuster the title might be "Budget Battles 6: Still Kicking."

Unfortunately, the city’s money problems and drama that has gone with it are far too real and there is no re-shoot or a director to yell, "cut." The city council remains divided over two proposed budgets - one that needs a $15 fee and the other that relies on the city's dwindling carryover.

Both plans were favorably recommended to council for second and third readings. A budget must be adopted by the end of the month but the sides don't appear to be any closer to agreeing.

Email newsletter signup

"When we continue to facilitate budgets that facilitate over spending our revenue then we are having zero regard for the city’s financial future," said councilman Jim Tordiff, who remains a vocal opponent of the plan without a $15 fee. "It is not OK in my opinion for this legislative body to pass legislation under the auspices that it will carry us through the year."

Tordiff and councilman Chuck O’Leary sponsored a plan that 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.

On the other side of the fence, councilmen Jesse Roberts, Brent Pyles, Richard Price, Bill Nenni and Bob Isaac have resisted the fee because of a variety reasons that include that they don't believe the majority of residents support or can afford it.

Councilman Isaac sponsored the other budget that is similar to a proposal originally sponsored by Roberts and Pyles but was tabled. Isaac's plan keeps the city's staffing the same, relies on the carryover until the $15 fee can be put on the November ballot.

"This budget will carry us through the year and then we can see what the people want," Isaac said.

Tordiff took much exception to that plan and questioned if it provided for police, equipment replacement and other things that his plan includes. After back and forth bantering, Tordiff continued to question the intent of the document and its supporters.

"We have a difference in philosophy. You know that and I know that," Roberts said. "Let’s stop beating that dead horse. We could sit here and pick (Isaac’s) budget apart just like we could do the same to yours. Š We need a lot of things but we have to live within our means."

Tordiff asked city finance director Cindy Anderson if Isaac’s budget met the city’s needs for a year. She answered that it would only if nothing changed or if there were no unusual expenditures. She did issue a warning for the future.

"I have sat here in this job for I don’t know how many years and we have squeaked by somehow," she said. "It is getting worse. If the residents don’t pass a fee and the revenue doesn't change we will go broke."

Mayor John Elam, who remains an adamant supporter of the $15 fee to provide "the health, safety and welfare of the city's residents and workers," said he was concerned about voters being asked to vote on fee at the polls at the same time they may be asked to decide on a tax levy to fund new schools.

Other ideas were discussed including one proposed by a citizen at the last meeting that called for an income-based fee.

Roberts indicated that the city attorney's initial opinion is that any income-based fee would be illegal because it would essentially be an income tax, which can only be raised above the current 1 percent by the voters.

Councilman Tordiff asked if anyone had looked at reducing the fire fee and adding a fee to help other departments. Moments later, he stood up and headed for the door.

"Obviously, you folks will have your way but I want the minutes to reflect that my feeling is that folks who support the budget Mr. Isaac has put together obviously has little understanding of the city’s needs," he said. "It will be monumental burden on whatever council takes office."

Until a budget is in place, the debate is still far from over. The sequel will likely premier at 6 p.m. Thursday in the next meeting.