City starts process to create budget for 2012

Published 9:38 am Friday, January 6, 2012

Cutting jobs possibility


Editor’s note: An expanded look of the Ironton budget will be published in the Sunday, Jan. 8 edition of The Tribune.

“Let’s get down to business.”

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That was the gist of an Ironton City Council Finance Committee meeting Thursday evening at the city center. It was the first of numerous meetings in the coming months as city leaders try to hammer out a new spending plan for the coming year — a plan that allows the city’s stagnant revenues to meet its numerous obligations.

Mayor Rich Blankenship offered several possibilities for saving money, among them, eliminating or modifying the city’s free garbage disposal voucher program that has cost the city more than $63,000 in the past three years; and eliminating the deputy finance director’s position, which the mayor said would save $55,000 a year in wages and benefits annually.

Blankenship also suggested raising the service worker license fee from $50 to $250 and recommended the city not hire a full-time engineer, which has been suggested by others. Blankenship said it would not save the city money.

Blankenship noted he will soon be negotiating with the city’s three unions that represent police, fire and public works and will negotiate on behalf of the city, whenever possible, to save money.

“We have to be responsible. We have to be creative and we have to make some difficult decisions in order to have a balanced budget for 2012 and beyond,” Blankenship said.

Finance Director Kristen Martin said eliminating the deputy finance director’s position was unwise because the state and federal governments have very definite laws regarding financial oversight for government entities.

Martin also offered suggestions for cutting the budget, among them, consolidation of city and county health departments, which share the same building, and raising the amount city employees pay for their health insurance. Right now the city pays 95 percent of the insurance premiums for all city employees.

“The city cannot afford to bear almost the entirety of an insurance premium that exponentially increases annually,” Martin said.

In a proposal to the finance committee, Martin said raising the amount paid by employees from 5 percent to 10 would save the city more than $70,000. Her proposal showed the city could save more than $100,000 by consolidating the health departments.

Blankenship said the city opened bids for health insurance contracts earlier in the week. The city received three bids and he was not pleased with any of them. Representatives from three agencies that have offered contracts will be at a finance committee meeting at 5 p.m. next Thursday to discuss their proposals. The finance committee will meet an hour prior to the regular council meeting at 6 p.m.

Blankenship said he had heard rumors some members of council were interested in eliminating the police department dispatch and contracting with the Lawrence County 911 agency to dispatch police officers. The mayor said if the council wants to do this, he asked the city begin now to negotiate this and not want until March when the budget, by law, must be approved. Martin had included the elimination of police dispatch in her recommendations. She said in her proposal that eliminating this service could save $175,000 annually.

Committee member Kevin Waldo asked how much money could be generated if the city raised its payroll tax from one percent to 1 and a half percent.

“If we stay the course and continue to stay the way we have been in the last few years, we might not be able to fulfill our obligations down the road if we don’t make some changes,” Waldo said. Martin said the half percent increase would bring in almost $1 million.

Finance committee chair Mike Lutz asked if perhaps the city should consider adjusting its reciprocity agreement — the amount paid by people who live in Ironton but work in another city that also has a payroll tax.

“Could you do an analysis, if we didn’t have the reciprocity?” Lutz asked Martin.

“It’s close to $500,000, the last time the study was done when (former finance director) Cindy Anderson did it,” Martin replied.

Blankenship said after the meeting he thought city leaders had to “take care of things in-house and do due diligence before we go to the public (and ask for more money).”

The finance committee will meet with each department head in a series of meetings in the coming months to understand their budgets, their departments and how each of these departments impact the city’s total budget.