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May 22, 2023
Martins Ferry City Council members are focused on fiscal worries and how to save money.
The topic led the discussion during a regular meeting Wednesday. City finances have figured heavily in recent council debates, including the need to increase receipts and cut spending.
Auditor Jack Regis addressed council and reported on efforts to find savings.
One issue is that of the city dispatchers. Regis said when officials began to prepare the budget, they had charged one dispatcher’s salary to the emergency squad, but the squad has since decided to use the Belmont County 911 system for dispatching.
He said this will lead to an added expense for the general fund.
“It freed up our operating in the general fund and let us operate,” he said of listing the dispatcher under the EMS service. “We’ll have to charge a dispatcher back to the general fund and eventually it’ll ripple down. I don’t know what now it’s going to do. I’ll have to look at the whole picture.”
Regis added that three positions in the street department were cut more than two years ago, including a supervisory position, and three to four positions at the water department have not been filled. A salaried position at the city garage was also eliminated.
Regis said the city’s bill for cellphones also has been cut by $1,200 a month.
“We’re making cuts and doing stuff,” he said.
He noted that if a full-time dispatcher position is filled with a part-timer, it could mean a savings of $63,000. Regis said there are four full-time dispatchers, one of whom could move to the mayor’s court staff after the current staff member retires.
Regis also brought up the city’s income tax over the past two years, saying that in 2019 the income tax yielded $1,519,000.
“Then the COVID year we dropped down to $1 million, $1.3 million,” he said. “Ever since then, we’ve been climbing almost $200,000 a year, somewhere in that range, going up,” Regis said.
However, there have also been expenses such as street paving and assisting the recreation department.
“When you take money and put it in other places, you look at it and the receipts are coming in higher in the income tax, but there’s not enough money to do everything you want to do. I just want to make sure everybody knows where we’re at. We’re trying to do our best,” he said. “… We’ve got a long ways to go to get the carryover we need for next year.”
Councilwoman Suzanne Armstrong asked about the resource officer for Martins Ferry City Schools. Regis said the school district could hire its own resource officer rather than using a city police officer. Currently, the school is paying the officer’s salary and the city pays the benefits for the resource officer.
Regis said the average annual cost of a police officer is close to $100,000, including benefits.
“Anything we can get out of the general fund, any relief we can get there is going to make us a little bit better at the end of the year, because what we’re all shooting for is carryover at the end of the year. It’s what you operate on January, February and March, because the budget isn’t done until the end of March and it don’t go into effect until April, so you always shoot for a minimum of $300,000 carryover, and right now we’re nowhere near that. We’ve got to make all the adjustments, combinations and cuts we can to make it.”
In past meetings, he had estimated that General Fund expenditures need to be cut by about 15% in order to have enough carryover for the city to operate during the first quarter of 2024. Regis said this would amount to about $256,000, and that would be a “skinny carryover.”
“The general fund’s in bad condition,” Regis said.
In other matters, Mayor John Davies reported the street sweeper is back in operation and the city will not void parking tickets.
“The officers are writing the tickets because they’re parked illegally,” he said.
Davies said this is also true for property owners ticketed for high grass.
“After it’s a foot high and they write you a ticket, you should have cut it six weeks ago,” he said.
Councilman Bruce Shrodes agreed, saying accountability is needed in cases of dilapidated properties.
“It’s not the city’s business to go around cutting people’s lawns,” he said.
Also, Law Director Paul Stecker reported the street committee drafted a letter for council to sign, requesting assistance from the Ohio Department of Transportation in repairing Ohio 647.
Councilman Rick Rodgers said the road was established by the state but not turned over to Martins Ferry.
“Because we are a city over 5,000 population, according to Ohio Revised Code we are responsible for that road, but as Mr. Stecker stated before, we are requesting help from District 11,” Rodgers said.
Council will also assemble a list of streets to be considered for paving.
Council also noted that hospitalization insurance for employees is expected to increase by 8 percent in June.
Also council declared it was against being part of an aggregate, since it would automatically enroll residents in a program they would have to go about withdrawing from if unwanted.
Guests included William Graff of Main Street, who said a wall built by the city behind his property has not been properly constructed and is damaging his yard.
“My yard probably dropped 2, 2 1/2 feet in the last couple of years. It’s starting to slope down more,” he said.
In other matters the Independence Day celebration is set for July 1 at City Park. The Veterans Memorial Recreation Center pool will be open. The all-day event will include bands, food trucks and fireworks. Any food vendors or businesses wanting to set up can call the City Building at 740-633-2876.
The Strawberry Festival is set for June 3 in the business district.
The Elks Club will hold a Community Day in the Park from noon to 4 p.m. June 17.
On behalf of Project Forward, Stecker said the group is holding a 10-week, grant-funded class for entrepreneurs starting at the end of the month.
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