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Ironton PUC meeting turns into Q&A session

On Thursday, Ironton City Council’s Public Utilities Committee was supposed to have a meeting to discuss various possible fee increases, but after only five of the seven council members were available, the meeting was turned into an impromptu question and answer session with Mayor Katrina Keith.

Chuck O’Leary, the PUC chairman, explained to the crowd gathered in the council chambers that two council members couldn’t be present because one had to work and another was sick.

That meant they didn’t have a quorum to meet, and the council members couldn’t discuss any matters or take any questions from the public.

The PUC meeting was rescheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday and the regular council meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Dec. 13.

He said that they have not set a date for a public forum at Ohio University Southern yet because they haven’t come to a consensus when every council member could attend.

And on a possible hotel tax, he said that is still be a researched and whether that would relieve part of the escalating fees that have been proposed.

“There are so many variables that I thought you guys coming down here would really help us,” O’Leary said. “It would have, if we could have had a meeting. But there are a lot of things that have to be answered before we can go into a forum.”

Keith asked the assembled citizens if they would rather go home or stay for an hour or so and let her explain the city’s financial situation. With the exception of a couple people, most stayed. She handed out a couple of documents, including a state of the city address and the city’s 2018 budget.

Keith spent about 45 minutes explaining in detail the issues facing the city, including that Ironton has far less citizens with jobs who are paying income taxes and thus the city has less revenue going into the general fund while expenses have continued to go up. She explained that only 49 percent of Ironton citizens are in the workforce and that 21 percent of citizens live in poverty with a family of four living on less than $21,000 a year.

Other issues affecting the city include having to pay millions to get the stormwater and sewer lines separated as ordered by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, dealing with coming up with money to repair and upgrade the water filtration systems to meet federal standards for mercury removal and maintaining the flood defense systems that has equipment built in the 1940s.

During the Q&A, someone mentioned about the city cutting expenses such as eliminating the police department.

Keith said that when they have discussions, cuts to the police or fire departments come up since those two departments have the largest number of employees. But cuts rarely happen because they provided such needed services.

“We say we can’t keep doing both. If the people rise up and say “no more fees,” there has to be a service that goes,” she said. “But that’s just discussion, it doesn’t mean we are going to get rid of it.”

Both departments require a certain level of staffing to be able to provide with services.

The police department is currently understaffed and pays out $84,000 in overtime costs to fill out shifts.
IPD Chief Pam Wagner said that in 2017, the police answered 11,147 calls, wrote 973 traffic tickets, including driving under suspension or driving while intoxicated, did 253 crash reports, and did 468 incident reports.

“Do you think the sheriff’s office wants to handle that?” Keith asked, adding that’s why the citizens pay for police protection.

Two things that went unmentioned was that this summer, the Ironton Health Department was merged with the Lawrence County Health Department into a single entity and several Ironton Health Department employees were let go.

Also unmentioned was that if the city were to switch from a full-time professional fire department to a volunteer fire department, residents’ house insurance rates would likely go up and costs more the further away from the firehouse the residence or business is located.