Voters must decide on municipal fee

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 14, 2005

Voters will be left to decide Ironton's fate in two months, despite Mayor John Elam pleading with council for immediate action.

Elam shook his head in frustration Thursday, just seconds after making sure the Ironton City Council knew where he stood on newest versions of the much-debated municipal fee. Council voted down just instituting a $7-per-month, per-household fee but did eventually agree on putting a $10 version on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The mayor said he was worried about repercussions of not passing it now and has been adamant for months that something must be done. When asked how he felt about waiting longer and taking a chance that voters would support it, Elam's frustrations came out.

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"I think (council) missed it earlier by voting (the $7 fee down). A good leader takes the people where they need to go, not where they want to go," he said after more than an hour and half debate left the city much where it started, without an immediate fix to the budget woes that Elam maintains will bankrupt the city sometime next year.

"I think you have blown it from the get-go. I think you have blown it for two years. Š Do something."

It took awhile but that "something" was eventually to approve a twice amended proposal that will place a $10 per month municipal fee on the ballot. The amendments specified that the fee would automatically expire Nov. 30, 2008, and that 10 percent of the approximately $500,000 generated would go towards economic development.

Because it remained the only plan on the table, the motion passed unanimously but all the debate prior made it clear that the fee was not the first choice of several councilmen. Similarly, two residents in attendance were split over the fee.

Long-time resident Hilda Davidson said she has cut as far as she can go with the city already recently adding the $14.50 stormwater utility fee and the $3 floodwall fee. Davidson has had to say goodbye to her newspaper, much of her cable service and any features on her phone service.

"I just can't afford it," the senior citizen said. "I am interested in the future of this city as anybody, but I just can't pay anymore."

Fellow senior Carolyn Schmeisser agreed that it would be a burden but said she would likely vote for the new fee.

"Even though I can't afford to, I will vote for it. The city has to survive," she said. "We don't have a choice."

Council spent much of the meeting looking for choices.

The first plan on the table was something Elam supported, though he admitted it was likely just "a Band-Aid to stop the bleeding." That proposal, sponsored by Councilmen Jesse Roberts, Richard Price and chairman Jim Tordiff, would add $7 to the monthly municipal utility billing of every residential household, rental unit and non-residential water customer.

The plan was voted down 4-3, with only the sponsors voting for it. Councilmen Chuck O'Leary, Bill Nenni, Bob Isaac and Brent Pyles voted against it.

O'Leary has been a supporter of nearly all the municipal fees proposed but voted against this one. He questioned the timing of it and said he just didn't believe it was enough.

"If we would have stuck together and proposed something like this two years ago, where would be today?" he asked. "Why now? It seems pretty suspect to me."

Then it was on to the $10 version that was proposed not as an immediate action but as something that would have to be approved by the voters. Much of the debate centered on the amendments that even had sponsor Bill Nenni concerned.

"We are going to have a document that is three pages long," he said. "People are going to go in the booth and throw the whole (ballot) out."

That scenario would realize Elam's worst fears.

"We need to have a contingency plan in place so people know the repercussions if this does not pass," Elam said. "We need to tell the people when the street lights are going to go out, when the departments are going to shut down."

Even if voters nix this fee, residents' water bills may continue to climb in coming months. In addition to the $17.50 added this year that includes the floodwall fee and stormwater fee, an increase of the city’s sanitation fees was given first reading.

The ordinance would add $2 to all residential customer’s garbage bills - taking the monthly charge from $9.50 to $11.50 — and adding anywhere from $5 to $34 per month for commercial customers. The increase is necessary to keep the fund from going bankrupt, the ordinance stated.