City leaders look to avert bankruptcy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 14, 2005

“We’ll be out of money by Feb. 28. By Feb. 28, we’ll be bankrupt.”

That was the message from Ironton Finance Director Cindy Anderson during Thursday night’s meeting of the Ironton Finance Committee. During that meeting, the committee — and other members of the city council — began the difficult task of figuring out where the city would have to trim its finances to keep Ironton’s head above water.

The city will be going into 2006 with a meager $88,000 in the bank, and — if no changes are made — the city would enter into 2007 in the red $373,000.

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Council member and finance chairman Bob Cleary was the first to make some suggestions as to the city’s course of action.

“We have a real problem coming up here real quick,” Cleary said. “We’ve been two years getting here, but now we’ve got some real decisions to make as to how we’ll eliminate the problem of the negative cash balance.”

Several options were put forth by Cleary. The first would resuscitate the recently defeated $10 fee to be charged Ironton residents. Only Cleary is now referring to it as a “safety fee” that would be directed into the police department, generating around $600,000 per year to help offset the departments nearly million dollar budget.

That would leave the city $226,000 in the black by 2007, but Anderson and the council agreed that would only be a temporary fix. There was some question as to how long the fee would be applied. Anderson wanted three years; Cleary said he would prefer a year-long fee with an option to renew it.

Of course, cuts were also considered. In the short term, Cleary said he thought $116,000 could be cut from the engineering department, $27,500 could be cut from mayor’s office, and that $44,000 could be saved by eliminating the city parking department. As almost all of these cuts would have to come from labor, they would also generate $62,000 in new unemployment costs.

A combination of the two would leave the city at a much more comfortable $353,000 in the black heading into 2007.

Looking at longer-term options, Cleary suggested eliminating the city health department and dispatching services and allowing these to be serviced by the county. Although there was little outcry about these cuts, Cleary’s option of eliminating reciprocity to generate money was less popular.

Other ideas were also put forth. Council chairman Chuck O’Leary proposed that the city focus more on collecting income tax revenue from independent contractors working in the city. O’Leary also said that he’d like to look at the feasibility of increasing parking meter costs before eliminating the department completely.

O’Leary emphasized the need for trimming the budget before a fee of any kind were imposed.

“You’ll hardly ever hear me say this, but I’m not for a $10 fee until the cuts are in place,” O’Leary said.

The finance committee will first turn itself to the immediate future, settling on a temporary budget for January during their next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday.