Issue 2 gets attention from city council

Published 10:22 am Friday, October 28, 2011

By Teresa Moore

The Tribune

State Issue 2 is a hot button issue these days. It got attention Thursday night at the Ironton City Council meeting.

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On the agenda was a resolution officially opposing State Issue 2. Councilman Dave Frazer asked why the city council needed to take a stand on the issue.

“Should we, as a council, be doing this?” he asked. “Are we going to vote next on the senior levy?”

“No, we’re putting forth as a council that we as individuals believe this,” fellow Councilman Chuck O’Leary explained.

“But as a council do we have a right to side one way or the other?” Frazer countered.

“As Americans we do,” O’Leary said.

“Basically this says we don’t agreed with it (State Issue 2),” Councilman Frank Murphy explained.

Councilman Bob Cleary had proposed the resolution two weeks ago but then withdrew it so the language could be reworked. He said he had sought assistance from city solicitors Mack and Bob Anderson to perfect the language before the matter was resubmitted. This time the resolution was sponsored by Cleary and fellow council members Mike Lutz, Beth Rist, Murphy, O’Leary and Frazer.

“I think State Issue 2 could take away some rights (of workers) to bargain,” Cleary explained.

The resolution passed 4-1 with Frazer abstaining and Cleary, O’Leary, Rist and Murphy voting for the resolution. Councilmen Kevin Waldo and Mike Lutz were absent.

After the meeting Frazer said he was against State Issue 2 but he didn’t think he as a councilman should be telling people how to vote.

Council also approved a resolution to pay Ohio Power $5,694. The utility company had overpaid the city in taxes a couple of years ago, finance director Kristen Martin explained. Now they are asking to be reimbursed for the overpayment.

Much of Thursday’s meeting was devoted to questions and concerns from area residents. Nancy Nicholich, who lives in the Indian Hills subdivision, told council she was upset she got a disconnect notice in the mail when she was one day late paying her water bill. She said three times lately she and her neighbors have had no water pressure. City workers to have had to dig up water lines to repair them as well as repair the pump that feeds water to Indian Hills. She said the street in front of her house was extremely messy from the work and she waited one day to pay her bill rather than walk through the mud to get out of her house and pay the bill. She ended up getting a new bill with a late fee and the threat of disconnection.

“Who do I have to talk to to get this late charge off?” she asked.

O’Leary and Cleary said they thought maybe the system in place now should be adjusted, giving people more time to pay their bill before a late fee is applied and a disconnect notice sent. Cleary also said he thought the wording of the letter that is sent to customers is aggressively written and should be reworded.

Finance Director Kristen Martin said the city had devised the existing notice in 2008 to prod lax customers to pay their bills.

“It was for people who weren’t paying at all,” she explained. “This is an easy fix. We can sit down and redo the letter.”

O’Leary agreed he thought the letter should be revised “so it doesn’t sound like we’re siccing the dragon on you.”

Cleary said the lack of water pressure had “always been an issue” and said at one time the city had talked about running a water line over the hill from the Nixon Hill tank to Indian Hills to serve that neighborhood and the south end of town.

Mayor Rich Blankenship countered that the water line installation would have added $1 million to the Nixon Hill project and that the city would still have to have a pump to feed the water uphill to Nickolich and her neighbors.

Nickolich also said she wished the city would do a better job of alerting people when there are water problems and accompanying water use advisories.

Mayor Rich Blankenship said he is working on an automated call system much like schools have, that would alert customers when there are service problems.

The matter of late fees and the rewording of the disconnect letter was referred to the public works committee for possible revision.

Susan Thompson, of South Fifth Street, asked Blankenship if he had researched her question from two weeks ago regarding how much money the city had spent on the Beth Rist matter and how much the city’s liability insurance will cover if Rist wins her lawsuit against the city. Rist, a sitting councilwoman, was fired as a police officer in 2008 after she was accused of writing a bogus traffic ticket. She pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in connection with the matter and has sought to get her job back. Her efforts include a federal lawsuit alleging the city has violated her civil rights. The lawsuit goes to trial next month.

Blankenship said the city’s insurance policy has a $1,000 deductible per claim and a $2 million cap per claim. Blankenship said Rist had filed the lawsuit and said any money spent by the city was to defend itself. Rist later countered she filed the lawsuit to defend herself. “And I hope this gets in the paper,” she said.

Jim Tordiff, board treasurer for the Dawson-Bryant schools and a former Ironton city official, suggested the city should begin producing a five-year financial forecast much like what the state requires of school districts. He said the forecast must be updated twice a year and must, using revenue and expense projections, determine what financial shape of the district will be in a year and then incrementally up to five years into the future.

“It causes officials to pause and look a little at the future a couple of times a year,” Tordiff said.

Tordiff pointed out that 80 percent of the city’s expenditures are for salaries and benefits for its employees and this is not unlike any other service entity (schools and governments). He also pointed out that over the years the city has had to add fees to pay for basic services.

“When you’re a service entity there’s not a lot of room to cut unless you cut a service,” Tordiff said.

He also suggested the city should have money for a rainy day fund.

Martin said she had to retract a comment she had made a few weeks ago when she said all council members had missed at least three meetings. She said O’Leary had not missed any meetings and Frazier and Lutz had not missed any regular meetings.

“I’m not too proud to issue a retraction,” Martin said.