City OKs employee pay hike

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 14, 2006

Calling a pay increase “long-overdue,” the city of Ironton’s union president could hardly contain his ear-to-ear smile.

“It is nice we are going to finally get something,” said Adam Brown, of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local 771. “We have waited a long time. They deserve it. We gave back. It is nice to be recognized.”

Passed unanimously by city council Thursday, the agreement gives all AFSCME employees a $.50 per hour pay raise. The increase is retroactive to the beginning of the contract year, which began on Feb. 1. The contract ends Jan. 31, 2007.

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The city employees last received a raise nearly three years ago. Local 771 represents approximately 45 employees, most of whose salaries range from $11 to $13 per hour with the raise.

Brown said he and his co-workers appreciate the tremendous support they got from much of the community.

“We are here for the service of the people. That is our main priority,” he said. “We are out here doing work when people don’t even see us.”

All items on the agenda were approved unanimously, with the exception of a resolution of support for a partnership between the Ironton Port Authority, the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization and Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital that could culminate in the demolition of the former River Valley Hospital property and the development of upscale residential housing on the 5-acre site in south Ironton — if the state gives its blessing on $750,000 in Clean Ohio funds.

The resolution passed 5-1 with Councilman Richard Price casting the dissenting vote.

Price said he supports the IPA but couldn’t give his nod on this project.

“I just couldn’t, with a clear conscience, vote ‘yes’ on it,” he said. “I understand the arguments for it, that the cleanup money is going to be used somewhere and it should be in Ironton but I couldn’t vote to use Ohio taxpayers dollars to bail out a billion dollar company.”

Fellow councilman Bob Cleary said he would love to see a hospital return to Ironton someday but that now was time to see something happen with the property that had sat vacant for too long and continued to deteriorate.

“It is time to move forward. If demolition is the best route, which it looks like it is to me, it is time to demolish and return it to usable land and develop it,” Cleary said. “Despite anything that has happened in the past, I still think Bellefonte has been a good health provider for the residents. I think this is going to be good for the community.”

River Valley closed in early 2001 — leaving behind under a mountain of debt and amidst cries of mismanagement.

In 2002, OLBH purchased the building located at 2228 S. Ninth St. for $5 million and expressed intentions of opening a hospital but those plans later changed due to the building conditions and other factors.

Hospital officials received much criticism while the facility remained empty but said they hope to show their good intentions by giving the property to the IPA to promote economic development.

Members of the IPA, the city’s economic development group, have said the deal will be a big boost for the city and shows OLBH’s commitment.

“This plan for the River Valley property is a win-win situation for everyone involved,” Bill Dickens, chairman of the IPA, said last week in a prepared statement. “Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital’s generous agreement to donate the property makes it possible for us to seek the funds we need to create much needed new housing here in Ironton. … This is a perfect example of public organizations working in partnership with a private entity like Our Lady for the betterment of our community.”

In other business, council unanimously approved a plan to purchase approximately 20-acres of land along Third Street owned by Ironton Iron Inc.

The purchase will cost the city $100, but is contingent upon an environmental assessment on the property and obtaining monies from the Clean Ohio Assistance Fund.

The Ohio Department of Development administers about $50 million in Clean Ohio funds for restoring former industrial sites each year. Past estimates projected that environmental assessments could cost between $150,000 and $250,000. The city could then seek up to $3 million for site cleanup, if necessary.