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Council, employees spar over budget, layoffs

 

 

Police department layoffs and city finances were the bulk of the conversation when Ironton City Council met Thursday night.

Ironton police offier Pam Neal Wagner, who is the president of the Fraternal Order of Police Local 75, asked why her department was one of the only ones that has had cuts.

“I don’t want to get mad, she said, “but I am.”

Wagner said whenever cuts have to be made in the city, it’s usually the police department that bears the brunt of the cuts.

Council member Aaron Bollinger explained that when council passed the budget, it was with the understanding that all employees, both union and non-union, would agree to start paying 7.5 percent of their retirement pick up and begin paying more for their health insurance.

Thus far none of the unions have agreed to these changes, therefore city council members say layoffs were necessary to make the budget work.

Wagner said some good things are starting to happen in the city. New schools have been built, a new bridge is being built, but talk of police department layoffs could stifle future growth.

“It’s like building a mansion in the middle of a minefield,” Wagner said.

Wagner said she recalled during budget talks that there was talk of employees possibly getting a raise. Although she would like to believe it, over the years the police department has been promised things that never materialized, she said. Wagner said she doubted she would ever get a raise.

Council member Bob Cleary said the city has been facing difficult circumstances before but this year was the worst he has ever seen and changes had to be made in the budget to make ends meet.

“This January was a reckoning and we didn’t have a choice,” Cleary said. He pointed out that non-union employees have already started paying a portion of their retirement pickup. He asked Finance Director Kristen Martin how much money this has taken out of her pay check. Martin replied this had cost her $150 per pay period.

“We’re asking for concessions and you guys sit there and say ‘No, we’re not going to do it,’” Cleary said.

Council members pointed out that state funding to local governments has dwindled, along with other city revenues.

“We’re spending about $25,000 more a month than we’re taking in,” Cleary said.

“This is difficult because it affects people I know and like and consider to be friends,” council member Philip Heald said. “But the problems we’re facing are beyond our control.”

Aaron Collins, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 532 said the proposed 7 1/2 percent retirement pickup would cost him $300 a month.

“I understand the city’s tight, the budget’s tight but what about three percent? Some of the guys would have jumped on board but 7 1/2 percent is way too crazy,” Collins said. “We’ve got guys down there who are single parents. We’ve got guys whose wives are on disability.”

Police Capt. Joe Ross asked the council why the fat that was talked about during its budget meetings wasn’t cut before laying off desperately needed police officers.

“You left the fat in the budget and now we’re paying for it,” Ross said.

Both Cleary and fellow council member Kevin Waldo asked Ross what fat he was talking about.

“Where is the fat, Joe?” Waldo asked.

“Things were cut,” Heald agreed. “But there are things some people think is fat that others think is vital.”

Mayor Rich Blankenship said, over the years, non-union positions have been cut through attrition. When people left they were not replaced, such as an engineer and a draftsman. He said the city did create the benefits specialist position but that position has wound up saving the city money in worker’s compensation costs.

Blankenship said talks between the city and all three unions are continuing. In addition to the police and firefighters unions, public works employees are represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Local (AFSCME) 771.

Bollinger called a meeting of the commerce and industry committee for 5 p.m. May 24; Council President Mike Lutz called a meeting of the finance committee for 5 p.m. Monday. He said much of the discussion will concern personnel, therefore it will be in executive session.

In other matters, council heard from Darrell McFann, of 509 Cliff St., who expressed concern about dogs running at large and vicious animals and asked what the city planned to do about them.

Lutz said there are city codes that pertain to animal ownership. Blankenship said if McFann called his office Friday, he would put McFann in touch with city code enforcement officer John Willis.

The city also gave second reading to an ordinance that would allow the mayor to purchase new dumpsters that would be rented out to various businesses.