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Tough calls needed in Mingo Junction

December 3, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

Mingo Junction isn't alone when it comes to a bleak financial outlook.

Steubenville is struggling with a deficit that may lead to layoffs.

But Mingo Junction has been on a downward spiral for the past several years. The budget has been cut by about two-thirds of what it used to be when the RG Steel plant and its predecessors were operating the steel mill. Then came cutbacks and layoffs and eventually the mill was completely closed. It is set for demolition, but there still is a lingering hope that some company will want to open a portion of the plant.

Without workers at the plant, the village's income tax dropped from $3 million four years ago to about $800,000 this year. The income tax may only bring in $700,000 in 2013, a more than 75 percent decrease in half a decade.

Mingo Council is facing a 40 percent reduction in its general fund budget next year from 2012.

Council has been meeting to discuss the budget but no definitive plans has been set in place. Council heard a proposal to shut off most of the streetlights in September but no decision has been made on a plan that could save the bulk of $70,000 a year spent on the lights.

Council hoped to transfer $250,000 from the community complex fund, which is funded through the income tax, but the state auditor's office shot the idea down, saying village residents voted on the income tax distribution.

The money would have greatly helped the budget going into next year and probably would have delayed the inevitable.

The village is facing a fiscal emergency, which will bring in the state auditor's office to run the finances of the village. Council would then have limited input on those financial decisions.

Council needs to make financial decisions now. There will probably be layoffs of village workers, including police officers and firefighters. Services to residents will be cut.

Mingo Junction had been blessed with the best services to residents for decades thanks to the steel mill operations in town. The money was flowing into the village coffers, but has since dried up.

Council recently voted to fire its village administrator after only seven weeks on the job. The administrator was proposing tough cuts, but council members apparently believed the administrator wasn't willing to work with them. Now council is left to make the financial decisions on its own.

Council needs to act quickly in getting the budget for next year in place. If it doesn't, the state auditor's office will make the decisions for them. That's a job village residents elected members of council to do.

The face of Mingo Junction has changed with the steel mill closing down. But it doesn't mean a new Mingo Junction can't emerge - it just won't be the same as in years past. Residents may be asked to pay more for water and sewer and other services. It is up to council and the residents to determine the village's future.

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