Martins Ferry tackles tough budget issues

MARTINS FERRY The city finance committee met Monday evening to take stock of expenses and determine the budget that must be submitted to the county auditor by March 30.

During a prior meeting, City Auditor Rita Randall noted that Martins Ferry’s debt stands at $10,435,740 with yearly payments of $1,000,453.

Mayor Paul Riethmiller was not present at Monday’s meeting, but had stressed that the offices of Code Administration and Department of Development be retained due to their value to the city and the revenue they created.

Randall informed the committee that the Code Administration fund amounts to $41,000 and the Department of Development is $45,000, meaning a total of $86,000 would be needed.

The consensus among committee members was to recommend dissolving the off-street parking fund, which would free $69,200. Randall pointed out that the city budget would still remain $30,000 in the red.

“We need to bring the budget down at least $30,000 to match the revenue,” she said afterward.

She further noted that the Code Administration position could be covered by the general fund once more. However the Department of Development could not, since it is partly funded by grants.

In answer to committee members, Randall confirmed numerous funds that had already been factored in to the budget. The estate tax has been included and another is pending.

Councilman Robert Krajnyak voiced concerns that elimination of off-street parking would lead to a deterioration of parking spaces which are in increasing demand around town. He agreed that the Code Administration and Department of Development were vital.

“We’ve got to have them and we’ve got to find a way to fund them and that’s the bottom line,” he said.

Council Member Russell Armstrong said a rising budget and continual dissolving of departments could lead to layoffs by the end of the year.

Committee Chair Robert Hunker noted that the expenses on the budget had been on the increase for the past three years. He said one issue was rising health insurance costs. He pointed out a 29 percent increase in insurance cost, which translated to an increase of $180,000.

“That’s just killing us across the board,” he said. He pointed out fuel costs as another significant factor.

Another factor are the continuing cuts to Local Government Funding at the state level.

“I think the governor is just crippling every community,” said Council Member Anthony Sarratore. “

Hunker said the committee members and council would have to pay close attention to their budgets in the future.

“We have to make it to the end of the year. We’re not that far off as long our supervisors stay within their budget and keep their budget costs down,” he said afterward. “What worries me is we have no carryover for next year. You’ve got to have a carryover to get yourself through the first couple months of the next year, and right now we don’t have it.”

Police Chief John MacFarland noted an increase in accidents. He said officers are issuing eight to 12 tickets daily.

Bruce Shrodes, council member present to observe, pointed out that the city does not count on income from the police department since they were primary present to perform a service.

” The future for cities is just dim, financially up and down this valley because of the way the state and federal have cut our funding,” he said. “No matter what we’ve got coming in with royalties, from property, we’re going to spend it to maintain the infrastructure until it’s gone, and then the state’s going to have to help.”

Another meeting was set for March 11, 5:30 p.m. The committee will hear from a representative of the city’s Columbus bond counsel regarding the process of setting a bond rating for the city.

DeFrank can be reached at