City needs clear long-term vision

Published 10:49 pm Saturday, August 15, 2009

City leaders are either short-sighted or need to check their long-term vision when it comes to projecting Ironton’s future.

Late last week, the city’s finance department provided budget projections that showed the city would end 2010 with less than $10,000 in the general fund carryover. Revenue projections dropped by nearly $300,000 and expenses rose by more than $225,000.

That would deplete the city’s $600,000 cash reserves in just one year. The picture looks even worse for 2011 with the city potentially looking at nearly a half million-dollar deficit.

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City officials insist these figures are “worst-case scenarios” that likely won’t come to reality. But how far are off are they? Even if they are half accurate, the city has big problems.

This means that one of two things must be true. Either the city has continued to dig a larger hole by increasing salaries at the wrong time and for too many years or Ironton has a flawed forecasting system that is essentially worthless when it comes to projecting the city’s future.

How can the city ever create an accurate long-term plan if its projections cannot at least be in the ballpark of reality?

Analyzing the projections and the city’s recent history, it is more than likely that the city will end 2011 in the red unless some changes are made. It may not be “worst case” as projected but it won’t be good. And, regardless of what city officials say, the problem primarily stems from the sizeable round of raises and ill-advised perks and bonuses given to the employees over the next three years.

Ironton will have to drastically find a way to cut expenses, something it has not shown a history of being able to do because officials won’t cut payroll or look at big-picture ways to consolidate services.

The more likely scenario is that the “temporary” municipal fee that has been in place for several years and was hurriedly renewed earlier this year in a way that prevented public comment will be renewed in two years. And don’t be surprised if officials look to renew or raise it even before then.

With four seats on city council up for election this November, residents should ask candidates what they plan to do to address this problem.

Whether city officials looked only at the short-term impact of the contracts and other decisions or simply use a forecasting system that isn’t accurate, it is clear that the city needs to improve its vision for the future.