Department heads defend budget

Published 9:48 am Friday, February 3, 2012



The Ironton City Council Finance Committee heard from four department heads Thursday evening, but not before hearing from an irate citizen about the discussion on eliminating the reciprocity agreement.

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Craig Harvey, of 2412 S. 11th St., told the committee he works three jobs to care for his family of six and would be directly impacted by the change. He said he has also talked to others who would be affected.

“One person in particular who works in Portsmouth said he would rather move to Portsmouth than pay double in taxes,” Harvey said. “Another person said they were willing to move to Ashland (Ky.).” Portsmouth has a 2 percent payroll tax.

Harvey said he would favor a “modest increase” in the municipal fee.

“It would be more fair,” Harvey said. “It casts the net over everybody.

He also took the city to task for paying so much of the employees’ health insurance premium and all of their retirement pickup.

“Five percent (employee health care contribution) is pretty ridiculous,” Harvey said.


After hearing from Harvey, the committee heard from Finance Director Kristen Martin, who urged the committee not to eliminate her assistant finance director’s position, as Mayor Rich Blankenship had recommended last month.

Martin said she has a staff of five (an assistant finance director, deputy auditor, payroll clerk, and two tax clerks, one of which is part-time) and needs that staff to handle the workload: 3,500 resident, business and withholding accounts, a $4 million payroll, $28 million in revenue, purchase orders, invoices, paying bills, making bank deposits and associated responsibility.

As for the assistant finance director’s position, Martin defended its necessity by saying her assistant, for mayor John Elam, works with department heads to help them maintain their budgets and performs numerous other duties as well.

“The assistant is responsible for preparing many of the month-end reports and reconciliations that are then reviewed for correction by the finance director including checking and payroll accounts, investments, revenue ledgers, expense ledgers and other depository accounts,” Martin said. “The assistant finance director is the sole backup to the finance director and deputy auditor and the income tax department which cannot be assisted with other non-union employees per their contract.”

Martin said, although the mayor does not have a public service director to assist him, he does have 10 department heads whose expertise he can rely on. Martin said she would also not be able to take on additional duties, such as benefits, if she can’t keep her assistant finance director. Benefits Specialist Katrina Keith recently suggested that she be allowed to focus more on economic development and marketing the city and give back benefit coordination to the finance department.


Economic development

Economic Development Director Bill Dickens said his office and the Ironton Port Authority have been instrumental in obtaining funds for and supervising the development of the riverfront park and the redevelopment of the old River Valley Hospital property.

“Now people are building $400,000 and $500,000 homes there,” Dickens said.

Dickens said he is working on plans to redevelop the south end of town.

Dickens said one plan that has gone awry was the plan to build a hotel on Coryville Road across from the Ironton Hills Shopping Center. He said when Ironton Hills developer/owner William Trembly learned of the city’s plans, he purchased a plot of property in the middle of the tract of land local leaders were working to purchase and develop. Dickens said work continues to develop the property that was once the site of the county engineer’s garage and the Dennis J. Boll Group and Shelter Home.

“What is the target date on St. Mary’s (medical center on State Route 141)?” committee member Beth Rist wanted to know.

“The target date is, I think, by early summer,” Dickens said.


Health Department

Health Commissioner Laura Brown thanked city officials for placing their trust in her. She became health commissioner in 2010.

She noted that in 2011 her revenues were down nearly $6,000 from the previous year because her office was on probation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the handling of its food service program in early 2010. That was same year she took over as health commissioner and necessary changes have been made to put the food service on sound footing. Brown said she expects the food service revenues to return to previous levels this year now that the federal agency has ended the probation.

One program that Brown said was needed in the city but is a drain on her budget is the Weeds and Seeds program. Under that program, the city cuts untidy lawns and cleans up unkempt properties. In a memo, Deputy Registrar Fred Shafer, who handles the program, said through Nov. 21 of last year, his program had received and investigated 210 complaints of everything from high weeds to improper waste disposal.

“While property owners are assessed charges for the cleanup and removal of these items, they are historically slow in paying them. There is currently $49,857.78 in unpaid assessments for these cleanups,” Shafer said.

Brown brought with her photographs of some of the eyesores Shafer has had to clean up. The photographs show piles of mattresses, shopping carts, car tires, remodeling debris, clothing and household items in the yards at several city addresses by former occupants who either moved out and left the mess or who are living amongst the mess.

“Mr. Shafer does an awesome job. He’s cleaned up snakes, rats, raccoons. He’s done it all,” Brown said.

The problem is that collecting from the property owners is difficult to the point of being nearly impossible. The city cuts the grass, cleans up the pile of rubbish and puts the cost of the cleanup on the person’s taxes. But if the property is abandoned or a foreclosure with an out of town bank, which is often the case, the city may wait years to get its money if it gets any money at all. If the property is sold at a tax lien sale, the city can collect money — if the property is sold at one of the first two auctions. If the property languishes and is offered at a third auction the city’s assessment is almost always wiped off the books.

“I don’t want to ax this program but I can’t afford it at this time,” Brown said.

“I’ve heard rumors of a possible merger of the city health department with the county health department, but the county doesn’t provide the Weeds and Seeds, am I correct?” committee member Aaron Bollinger asked.

“They do not,” Brown replied. Bollinger asked Brown to discuss the pros and cons of a merger.

Brown replied that the pros include that the two agencies are in one building, but she said the county officials have already said they would not take any city employees even though the county, if the merger took place, would get the city’s vital statistics. She also said the city would have to pay the county for its services and the county would set the per capita fee to any amount it chose.

Bollinger asked if the municipal court could help out with its community service program. Brown said the court workers were supposed to stay on public property; the Weeds and Seeds program requires workers to go on private property.

Martin pointed out the merger could not take place unless the county accepts the city’s programs and employees — a merger means combination.

Committee chairman Mike Lutz asked Blankenship to ask the city solicitors to look into this matter.

Rist asked if the errant property owners could be cited to court.

Code enforcement officer John Willis said he had the same problem. He said he has a small budget to demolish blighted properties and he also places assessments on properties but, like Brown, doesn’t ever see any money for his efforts.



Recreation Director Brett Thomas is the only full-time person in his department; he has two part-timers. Thomas discussed the city’s tax levy, which must be renewed this fall. The levy is vital, he said, to the city’s recreation program.

His department is responsible for cutting the grass at city parks (more than 16 acres a week), dumping trash thrown in trash bins, maintaining pumps and equipment at the new spraypark, maintaining the youth basketball program and the youth cheerleader program and assisting with such large-scale public events as Gus Macker. Thomas said his department also assists Ironton In Bloom and helps with other public events.

Thomas said he is proud of recent improvements and additions to the city’s parks, such as the skatepark, new equipment at the Etna Street park and the splashpark.

“The splashpark was very busy last year, which was great,” Thomas said.

“Is the riverpark going to be your responsibility?” Waldo asked Thomas.

“The (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers takes care of that but that may change in the future,” Thomas replied.

Lutz wanted to know why the recreation department was cutting the grass at the Little League field. Thomas said this was not routine. He was helping the Little League because its equipment broke down and he had permission from the mayor to do so.


What now?

Blankenship asked for sponsors for a resolution he has ready that would set the salaries on non-union employees. The benefit package would not include a pension pickup and will be required to pay 20 percent of their health insurance premiums, under the proposed resolution. Committee members Bollinger and Waldo agreed to sponsor the resolution.

The finance committee will meet at 9 a.m. Saturday to continue work on the budget.