MARTINS FERRY During his first council meeting as mayor of Martins Ferry, Paul Riethmiller was asked by resident Richard Hord what his top priorities were for the new year.
An important question to be sure and one expected of a new administrator presiding over his first meeting.
But given the financial picture painted by Auditor Rita Randall earlier in the meeting, his answer took on greater importance.
During her report, Randall reported that the city, bolstered by some last minute and unexpected local government money, finished 2011 with a health balance.
That balance of $193,000 was already down to roughly $106,000 after the first round of payroll and bills went out for the month.
But when Randall turned her attention toward income tax collections, the news wasn't quite as glowing.
For the fourth consecutive year, Martins Ferry took in fewer in income tax collections than the previous year.
In 2011, the city had a net collections of $1,104,180.42. That was down from $1,159,671.17 in 2010, $1,1677,096.79 in 2009 and $1,184,885.23 in 2008.
"You can see where the collections are falling,'' Randall told council. "Finance Committee is really going to look that over and see how our budget is going to shape up for the next year."
Not the best news to be sure. And like every other municipality across the Buckeye State, Martins Ferry is staring at decreased state and local government funding.
It poses a potentially difficult challenge with a few options of rectifying, some more desirable than others.
"There are a couple of different options we have,'' Riethmiller began. One of them is to raise the income tax in the city. But I have always been against that. I believe we can keep the tax at three-quarter percent and do a better job of enforcing collections."
Legally, the city could increase its income tax from percent to the full 1-percent rate without needing a vote from the citizens. Any increase more than that would need a vote.
But the mayor said he's looking to go in a different direction than tax increases.
"We are moving forward and not going to drag our feet,'' Riethmiller said. "One reason we made changes in our Development Department is our goal in the first six months it to work on replacing the lost revenue we're getting cut from the state.
"The best way to do that is increase the tax base."
Earlier in the meeting, he introduced Kathy Gagin, who took over for Stanley Stein as the city's development supervisor.
Gagin, a former member of Charlie Wilson's staff with generous experience in grant writing, has hit the ground running in looking to bring business to the city.
"We need to bring good job into our industrial park,'' Riethmiller said. "We want to sell that property and bring in good paying jobs.
"Kathy already has two people interested in coming to the city.
Riethmiller said he's hoping to make a big announcement within the next six months.
His goal is that Martins Ferry get in on the oil and natural gas boom and receive its piece of the pie.
"If we don't do something to bring these people and these jobs in, they will go somewhere else, whether south or north,'' Riethmiller said. "And while that may be good for the county, it's not good for Martins Ferry."
Hughes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org