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Ironton passes #036;5.6 million budget

The Ironton City Council passed its budget on Friday night.

Leo Johnson, who co-authored the budget with City Finance Director Kathy Elam, said he was happy it passed.

“I’m proud it passed, it was a lot of work,” he said. “I’m glad the council felt it was good enough to pass and I feel very good of what we are preparing for the future.”

The budget for 2008 is $5.6 million.

The carryover amount from 2007 to 2008 was $1.05 million, which Johnson attributes to tight management of funds. He said the amount of the carryover came mainly from income tax, estate taxes and interest from investments.

“Income taxes are up this year but not by a huge amount,” he said. The city took in just under $2 million in income taxes and $529,256 in municipal fees. The return on investments was $63,703. “It’s enough of a bump to help.”

Johnson said the focus of the council for the next two years is going to be economic development and developing long-term goals.

“Honestly, it took us two years to get to this point,” he said.

It was two years ago that finance director Cindy Anderson came to council and told them the carryover from the previous year was only $80,000.

“She told us if we didn’t do something, the state was going to come in and take us over,” Johnson said.

He said budget tightening and the increases in income taxes helped.

“I tell people if you take away the safety fee, the inheritance tax away and the interest from the investments, you would have a carryover of about $300,000 to $400,000,” he said. “With that amount of money, you can’t progress as a city, you just tread water.”

The two biggest line items in the $5.6 million budget are the police and fire departments. The police budget is just under $1.5 million and the fire budget is $1.25 million.

“No one on council is willing to cut those positions because it is a public safety issue,” Johnson said. “In this budget, we added another police officer. We have to have the protection.”

He said the past council and the new council have made public safety a priority.

For the past three years, council has budgeted for a new police officer.

“It takes a lot of money and people to provide 24-hour protection,” he said. “If we don’t do something about crime, it will be on our door step.”

Of course, more law enforcement, or “boots on the streets” as Councilman Chuck O’Leary calls it, means that drivers have had to watch their habits.

“The police department has done a great job of writing more tickets,” Johnson said. “Chief Jim Carey said his department has increased enforcement by 600 percent.”

There were no cuts for city departments but the public service director position that was eliminated last year was unfunded.

“That was the only cut we made,” Johnson said. “Honestly, I don’t think we can cut any more positions.”

The only way there could be more positions cut, he said, is if emergency dispatching is combined with the county. That is something that Johnson said he would like to explore.

“I would like to see that issue addressed, but so far I don’t even know if that has even been investigated by the commissioners,” Johnson said. “We couldn’t cut dispatching without a merger.”

He said the city budget, like all budgets, are being hit hard by insurance costs and high gasoline prices.

“We are not sure yet, but we expect insurance to go up between nine and fifteen percent this year like it did last year,” Johnson said. “And fuel costs are outrageous. We added an extra 10 percent in the budget. Utilities went up.”

New this year is a line item of $35,000 for demolishing dilapidated houses. Before the money for demolition came to the city from the state through the Community Action Organization.

“I think with strong code enforcement, we will use that money wisely,” Johnson said.

Since December 2003, 33 houses have been razed using CDBG funds. It takes between $1,000 to $5,000 to demolish a house.