City leaders look for Plan B

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2005

To hear most tell it, Ironton stands at a crossroads.

On the November ballot is the hotly debated $10 municipal fee, which, if passed, could be the saving grace for a city whose revenue continues to dry up.

Were it to gain a majority of voter's approval, the municipal fee would generate around $600,000 per year, which Mayor John Elam said should be enough to keep the city afloat.

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"It will allow us to stay just about at a level where we are right now, it will allow us to maintain our current level of service," Elam said. "It would plug the hole."

However, should the municipal fee fail, city administrators would have to begin the process of eliminating $500,000 from the city's budget in order to keep the city's head above water.

For lack of a better term, they would be forced to create a "Plan B."

"If that fee does not pass, we have no choice but to make drastic cuts," Finance Director Cindy Anderson said.

General vs. enterprise

When looking at cutting services, it's crucial to understand the difference between the general fund and enterprise funds.

As a rule, enterprise funds are self-sustaining, that is to say, residents pay directly for the services they receive. Some examples of enterprise funds are water, sewer and sanitation.

Enterprise funds are not in danger as those in the general fund are, and would not be considered when trying to make $500,000 up in the general fund. Those in the general fund get most of their financing through tax revenue.

There are 16 different departments that receive their financing through the general fund.

Departments are council, mayor's office, municipal court, finance, community corrections, police, dispatch-emergency services, animal control, fire, civil service, engineering, income tax, attorneys,public buildings, parking meters and unallocated


Nip and tuck

The included chart shows the funding each department receives, but the largest are police and fire, accounting for about $900,000 and $1,000,000 respectively, and dispatch services and the engineering department, at around $223,000 and $237,000.

City council chairman Jim Tordiff has his suspicions about where the cuts would come from, and they don't paint a pretty picture of Ironton's future.

"If there's not some kind of a substantial fee, than the only other option is to drastically cut or eliminate either police, fire or dispatching," Tordiff said.

Tordiff said he suspected that dispatching would be the first to be looked at, since there's a possibility it could be absorbed by 911. Tordiff is personally opposed to this, he said, because he feels that the service is vitally important.

Although Anderson and Elam were not willing to discuss their thoughts on what cuts should be made, the finance director would say that all departments will see some effect.

"Are any not going to be touched? I don't think so, I think every single department within that general fund has to see a touch," Anderson said. "I think they'll all be affected in one way or another."

No one, at this point, is sure even where cuts would be made. Anderson said they could be in personnel, or evenŠoffice supplies.

"It may be 'I'm sorry guys, I don't care how you do it, but bring your paper from home,'" Anderson said. "Every department will feel some effect, we just can't tell you how."

Drop dead

Elam and Anderson say that, should the municipal fee fail, they and council will begin discussing which cuts they will have to make to remain financially solvent, and some of those cuts could start being implemented by the first of the year.

"We won't have the ability to wait three months [to begin making changes]," Anderson said. "By the numbers I'm looking at, Feb. 28 is drop dead."

Tordiff said that he believed the issue runs deeper than the $500,000 budgetary deficit the council would have to make up should the municipal fee fail.

"The problem is worse than to say $400,000 or $500,000 because that's based upon the assumption that everything is fixed cost," Tordiff said. "Salaries are going to go up sooner or later, health care is going to go up sooner or later, gas is going up right now."

Some in the community think that the municipal fee may be dead before it gets to the voting booth.

"It's just one thing after another, we are being fee-ed into bankruptcy. In my personal opinion, I don't think any of them are going to pass," longtime resident Howard Waller said. "People may be in favor of it, but they just don't have it."

Back on track

At the moment, Elam isn't looking to scare people in to voting for the municipal fee, but rather promising to be a good steward of the money that would be entrusted to the city.

"As with anything else that they would invest into, we would hopefully be promising a rate of return on the investment that they would be making into their city," Elam said. "Their investment is one in the future of the city that will pay dividends for years to come."

Most city leaders seem to be putting a positive spin on a problem that is, by all accounts, extremely serious. Anderson remains resolute in her positivity about the city, avoiding doom and gloom and replacing it with the chance of a brighter, united future.

"Everybody remembers Ironton in its heyday in the '40s and '50s, that's when Ironton was booming and we've gone downhill, and we have, we've hit rock bottom," Anderson said. "But if we all don't stand together, we're not going to stand back up. It's going to take all of us to put it back on track."