ASHLAND — A study committee has suggested a compromise to a budget proposal that would siphon money out of Ashland parks operations and into the general fund.
The city's biennial budget for 2013-15 calls for taking a large chunk of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department's reserves and ending a long-standing agreement that parks receive half of city property-tax revenue.
But a temporary committee set up to look at parks funding issues proposed that about half of parks' ending fund balance be used to create a special reserve fund for Lithia Park maintenance, repairs and improvements.
Committee member and parks Commissioner Stefani Seffinger said Lithia Park is Ashland's oldest park and has multiple maintenance needs.
"There are a great many projects that need to be done in Lithia Park," Seffinger said.
Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee members, who are in the midst of scrutinizing the city's proposed biennial budget, were briefed on the compromise proposal Wednesday night.
They took no action, but said they wanted the Parks Commission to discuss the proposal. The commission next meets on May 20.
The Budget Committee will decide whether to approve the proposal when it meets to adopt a city budget and set the property tax rate for the next two years on May 22.
Parks Director Don Robertson said the proposed two-year budget does meet parks' current needs. But commissioners and many residents are concerned that the parks system could suffer in the future, he said.
City Administrator Dave Kanner and Administrative Services and Finance Director Lee Tuneberg have proposed a $200.6 million biennial budget.
If approved, the parks department's ending fund balance would be reduced from 25 percent of its operating expenditures to 12.5 percent, or about $666,000. The study committee proposes shifting that money into a Lithia Park reserve fund.
Historically, the parks department has maintained a large ending fund balance because it relied heavily on property taxes. It needed the money to pay its bills from the start of the fiscal year in July until property tax payments started rolling in in the fall.
The proposed budget calls for the city to receive all the property tax money, while the general fund would make payments to the parks department — alleviating the need for the department's large ending fund balance.
The proposed budget would keep city property taxes flat, but Kanner said he strongly recommends that the Budget Committee raise taxes for needs such as wildfire fuels thinning in the Ashland watershed.
Raising regular city property taxes to their legal ceiling would cost the owner of a home assessed at $245,000 — the median in Ashland — an extra $22.12 per year.
A newly updated version of the proposed budget calls for 10 percent increases in water and sewer bills and a 5.3 percent increase in electric rates.
Ashland Daily Tidings reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.