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Ironton City Council amends fire fee — again

The Ironton City Council has amended the city’s fire safety fee yet again.

The council voted Thursday night at its regular meeting to amend the wording of the fire fee as it relates to commercial customers.

The previous ordinance, passed June 10, stated that all businesses in the city are required to pay $12 per month for the fire safety fee.

Under the newly amended ordinance, the law states that all commercial accounts in the city shall pay the $12 fee each month.

Ironton resident Rebecca Hitchcock addressed council about the ordinance before the change was made.

Hitchcock’s residence was assessed the fee because her husband is a contractor who works from home.

Her house has no sign in front of it and no customers are coming in and out of the house, she said.

“What is your definition of business?” Hitchcock asked council.

Finance Director Kristen Martin responded that council had directed her to use income tax records to find businesses in town.

Workers in the water department had also used the phonebook to find businesses, Martin said.

Martin had tried to use county records, but the county does not have a database that could be easily accessed, she said.

Before the ordinance was first changed in June, the city assessed the fire fee through metered water accounts. Each account paid the fee according to the number of gallons used each month.

With the change made in June, Martin and workers in the water department were attempting to track down every business in the city and charge them the $12 fee.

With the amendment made Thursday evening, the fee will again be billed to commercial metered water accounts, with each metered account paying $12 each month.

Now, businesses with more than one water meter will pay one $12 fee for each of the water meters it uses, Martin pointed out.

Council Chuck O’Leary said he does not support the ordinance change because it means that some businesses will pay the fire fee more than once each month.

The amendment passed 4-3, with O’Leary, Council chairman Kevin Waldo and Councilwoman Beth Rist voting no. Councilmen Mike Lutz, Frank Murphy, Dave Frazer and Bob Cleary voted to pass the amendment.

The ordinance will go into effect in 30 days and is retroactive to June 10, meaning that businesses that were assessed the fee but are not associated with a water bill can expect a refund from the city.

Martin expressed frustration over how the June 10 ordinance was passed.

A previous ordinance on the matter had died at a meeting before June 10 and was put back on the agenda for June 10.

During that meeting the decision was made to change the ordinance to read “business,” not “nonresidential customer,” leaving Martin to determine what that meant.

“I felt we were bombarded,” she said after the meeting. “I was told to get it done and I felt like I’ve done my best.

“I don’t mind the work, what’s frustrating is that I have taken the time to identify the businesses and now all that has to be reversed.”

In other business, Ironton City Council also:

Heard the first reading of an ordinance to vacate a portion of Pond Alley.

Heard the first reading of an ordinance to rezone the area near State Route 141 as a Health Care Service District. A potential developer has shown interest in developing a health care campus in the area.

Heard the second reading of an ordinance allowing the mayor to start the loan application needed for the development of the city’s water meter replacement project.

Heard the second reading of an ordinance allowing the mayor to start the loan application needed for the development of the city’s waterline rehabilitation project.

Heard the second reading of an ordinance to establish the intersection at South Seventh Street and Park Avenue as a three-way red light stop.

Adopted an ordinance authorizing the mayor to convey a portion of property to the state of Ohio. The property conveyance relates to the future construction of a new Ironton-Russell bridge, Mayor Rich Blankenship said.

Passed a resolution supporting the preliminary legislation from the Ohio Department of Transportation in constructing a new bridge across the Ohio River in Ironton. The new bridge is scheduled to be constructed beginning in July 2011, the mayor said.