Ironton City Council tables municipal court resolution

Published 12:50 am Sunday, August 26, 2012

Is it legal and how will it affect the City of Ironton in the future?

Some Ironton City Council members asked those questions and more Thursday as they tabled a resolution that would have transferred a little more than $20,000 from the Ironton Municipal Court probation fund to the general fund to pay for retirement pickups for court employees.

The money would also be used for a one-time bonus for one court employee.

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“I want the finance committee to look at this one more time,” council member Bob Cleary said as he asked that the resolution be temporarily shelved.

Earlier this year, city council mandated that all non-union employees begin paying seven-and-a-half percent of their retirement pickup. Until now, the city paid the entire 10 percent of the employee share, as well as another 13 percent as the employer.

The idea was that the city’s three unions should agree to the plan as well, and the city’s budget was built around these concessions. Thus far only the firefighters union has agreed to begin paying a portion of the pickup and that is three percent. Police and public works unions have yet to reach an agreement with the city on their contracts.

Ironton Municipal Court Judge O. Clark Collins issued a court order requiring the city council to make the transfer so his employees do not have to pay the seven-and-a-half percent.

“My people have been given additional responsibilities because of the number of drug cases we handle and because we are short-staffed,” Collins said when reached by telephone Friday afternoon. “I did want to compensate them for the additional duties they’ve taken on.”

Collins said, in the past, his employees have foregone raises in exchange for having better benefits and that he took that into consideration when he court ordered the $20,000.

City council had previously asked its solicitors, Bob and Mack Anderson, to issue an opinion as to whether or not the court order is legal.

Ohio law allows judges and prosecutors to issue a court order — in essence a legal demand — for an amount they deem sufficient to operate their courts. There is no specific financial amount stated in the law.

The court order matter was at the center of the debate Thursday at a city council finance committee meeting and then at the full council meeting that followed. Finance Director Kristen Martin told the finance committee the official opinion from the Andersons is that the order is valid.

“It’s legal and binding,” Martin told them.

Committee member Kevin Waldo told the other finance committee members, as well as council members who attended the finance committee meeting, he could not support the idea of the court order and questioned first whether the document sent from Collins was in fact an actual court order and then questioned why this was being done at a time other city workers were laid off.

“There are people who, between the city and the county (portions of their pay) make $60,000 a year and we have people who are laid off and people who are paying their seven-and-a-half percent,” Waldo said. The salaries of some court employees are paid partly out of city funds and partly out of county funds.

Collins said the document the city council received was a legal court order and refuted Waldo’s claim he has any employees who make $60,000 a year.

“Nobody’s salary is out of line over here,” Collins said.

Waldo pointed out the retirement pickup change affects 19 people.

“Council should look at the whole program and see if we could pick up the seven-and-a-half percent for non-union employees and the fire department,” council member Bob Cleary suggested. “Right now the only ones suffering are salaried employees.”

Finance committee member Aaron Bollinger wondered aloud how this mandate would affect the city’s three-year financial plan.

Waldo said Collins has the money to take from his probation fund, which has $223,281 in it, because the judge created that fund and other in the first place and decides what goes into them.

“It eats at me,” Waldo said. “It doesn’t make any sense.”

Collins said the money he is using is taken out of one fund and put in another.

“It doesn’t cost the city a dime,” Collins said.