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Despite pessimists, good things happening in city

As Mayor of Ironton, I am often called upon to be the city's chief defender, a role I enjoy each and every time the request is made.

I am proud of our city, its people and its progress.

Recently, an ex-mayor of Ironton critiqued our town in strongly negative terms.

Certainly he has a right to his opinion on our progress, and in the broadest sense, I welcome constructive criticism that can make us all better.

But, in this particular critique, there was a gap between the facts and the recollection of the ex-mayor. Let me tell you about the "state of the city" since the citizens of Ironton chose change over the status quo 18 months ago.

On Nov. 4, 2003, the voters of the City of Ironton elected me to serve as their mayor by a two-to-one margin of victory over previous Mayor Bob Cleary.

It was clear Ironton wanted new leadership. My promise, 18 months ago, remains the same today - "I will make a difference."

It was apparent from my first day of office that there were many obstacles that would need to be overcome.

Paramount was the 2004 budget.

Although there was $769,272 carryover (excess) dollars from 2003, more than $400,000 was from one-time extraordinary items (monies the city would only receive once).

Approximately $270,000 came from the sale of city assets that included a municipal parking lot.

Also in 2003, a windfall inheritance tax of $231,000 was received as compared to $90,000 in 2004 and $90,000 budgeted for 2005.

With more than $400,000 less revenue to depend on, the forecast for the 2004 budget was bleak - a forecast that I had warned of in 2002 as a member of city council. The loss of more than 1,000 jobs between 1997 and 2003 meant a reduction in payroll taxes which were used to offset the costs of providing city services.

To narrow the margin of the projected deficit, 11 individuals were laid off in 2004.

Some of them chose retirement, while others chose to seek different opportunities.

Those laid off represented nearly 10 percent of the city's workforce.

As of this writing, one employee remains laid off.

As mayor, I appointed Ironton's first port authority board of directors. The five-member board of directors serves on a volunteer basis.

Through their combined efforts, new businesses have located in Ironton, with several more inquiring about space availability within our city.

As mayor, I have graciously accepted nearly $50,000 from the Ironton Eagles to purchase police vehicles for our officers and a heavy duty rescue response truck for the Ironton Fire Department. This is, I believe, the largest gift of its kind from a fraternal organization ever received by the City of Ironton.

Local civic volunteer groups, notably the Friends of Ironton, have stepped forth to assist in the revitalization efforts of the city. Funds raised by the Friends have supported the city by providing 50-percent matching funds for bulletproof vests from a grant that I wrote to the U.S. Department of Justice.

And, we recently witnessed the 1st Annual Memorial Weekend Art Exhibit.

Several hundred visitors to the Ironton City Center enjoyed the works of local artists, with Cristianne Murphy of Ironton donating her talents to support the Ironton Port Authority through the sale of a Memorial Day Parade commemorative print.

Many facelift projects recently have been completed or scheduled for completion in the upcoming months.

The Center Street Floodwall project is one such project - a project that almost didn't happen.

Within the first few months of taking office, I learned the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) was shelving the Center Street Floodwall Project.

Upon further investigation, I learned that the project had been "on the books" for five years.

I inquired to the city engineer as to the status of the project and was told there were not enough grant funds to accomplish the project. The city was approximately $75,000 short.

I wrote a grant request to ODNR for the Ironton Flood Gate Boating Access Improvements project and was able to get the funding re-allocated. Still $75,000 short, I began searching for other grant opportunities.

The Ohio Rail Development Commission, through written notification in March 2004, provided $75,000 in safety funds for the project through a grant request that I secured.

In all, I secured more than $235,000 in grant funds for the project, with the Huntington/Ironton Empowerment Zone contributing the rest.

John Elam is a former city councilman and current mayor of Ironton. This is the first of a 2-part column on the state of the city.