ASHLAND — City Council candidates have pegged the economy and resolving city budget issues as top priorities, along with visioning and environmental protection.

ASHLAND — City Council candidates have pegged the economy and resolving city budget issues as top priorities, along with visioning and environmental protection.

Seven candidates are competing for three positions in the Nov. 4 election. Following are summaries of their comments on the issues:

Council Position 1

John Gaffey and Carol Voisin both identified finding a vision for the city as one of the largest issues facing the Ashland community and said the city must be cautious in managing its budget.

Gaffey wants a collaborative effort to establish a comprehensive plan and ordinances to keep the city moving efficiently.

"The suspicion some people have that city staff are in cahoots with developers to destroy Ashland . . . has fostered the mistaken belief that micro-management or obstructionist tactics is all the keeps Ashland from its own destruction," he said.

Gaffey said he would support a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, and he views the support of local business as the way to strengthen the entire community.

To manage the city budget, restraint is required, recognizing that the city cannot address every problem a compassionate community like Ashland would like to, he said.

"The (Rolling) Stone's refrain 'You can't always get what you want,' should always be in the back of a councilor's mind," he said.

Voisin identified her top three priorities as fiscal responsibility in overseeing the city budget, economic development through the creation of living-wage jobs and work-force housing and practical sustainability measures to reduce Ashland's carbon footprint and make the city more sustainable.

The biggest challenge facing the community is finding a vision for the next 10 years, which can be accomplished through community input and town meetings, she said.

"We must have ownership and participation by the community," she said. "Vision is not for the council to impose but for council to enable the community." Reducing the city budget and debt is the biggest challenge for the council and should be a joint effort among city staff, budget committee members, councilors and the public, she said.

"The public needs to focus on the budget to the extent of answering the question, 'How many services do we really need?' " she said.

Council Position 3

Cate Hartzell and Greg Lemhouse identified economic issues as key to the city's future, with Hartzell focusing on resolving city budget issues and Lemhouse advocating for the creation of more living-wage jobs through cooperation between and within the government and business community.

"The issue with significant long-term implications is adopting sound budgets in the face of statewide 'cut and cap' property tax legislation, shifts in federal and state funding, competitive employee contracts, increased operational costs and an ailing economy," Hartzell said.

In working toward that sound budget, Hartzell said she would continue to back fee-based services where appropriate, talk with the public about service levels and needs, contribute to a statewide discussion about modifying cut and cap property tax laws and evaluate the city's capital improvement plan for projects that could be delayed.

She also identified protecting and adding affordable housing and ensuring success of the city's strategic planning process as her other top goals.

Lemhouse said creating a government that works would be the first benchmark on the way to achieving his top priorities of an economy with living-wage jobs, an efficient, inclusive government and keeping the council's eye on the big picture instead of minutiae.

"Ashland citizens expect city councilors to communicate effectively with each other and work efficiently to find solutions," he said. "This hasn't happened for the past eight years."

He wants to build a collaborative relationship within the city in order to avoid "micro-managing" of city staff he said he believes has cost the city in hiring and training costs to replace skilled workers. Rather than maximize property taxes, he said the city should restrain spending on services and programs that aren't needed.

Council Position 5

Ben Chew, Russ Silbiger and Pam Vavra all named the poor economy or the city's budget as a growing issue in Ashland.

Chew said all other issues lose meaning if Ashlanders cannot support themselves in a healthy economy, which he said should be focused locally as much as possible. The city and its budget should be slimmed down, taking a "fairly hands-off approach" in dealing with the business community, in creating affordable housing and to avoid interfering with individual liberties, he said.

"Financial problems arise from spending too much," he said. "I would look into all the city does beyond protecting the life, liberty and property of each and every individual and providing and maintaining the basic infrastructure of the city. Programs beyond that would need to be evaluated, then slimmed down or removed."

Silbiger focused on the city's budget gap as the biggest issue and his first priority, followed by creating a long-term economic strategy and protecting Ashland's environment and resources. More than just "tightening our belts," the city needs to prioritize and consider four-year goal setting and consider bi-annual budgeting, he said.

"We need to focus on continuing to provide quality services, and we need to engage the community in prioritizing our needs," he said.

Silbiger also said the city needs to find a back-up water supply to protect against fire threats to the watershed.

Vavra chose environmental issues such as protecting access to clean water, food and air and reducing dependence on fossil fuels as among her top priorities. Diversifying the economy also ranked high on her list, and she named the national economic downturn as the biggest problem facing Ashland.

"Coming together as a community, helping one another, as we have shown we can do when faced with natural disasters, will be important," she said. "Encouraging people to buy locally to strengthen our local economy can be beneficial, as can stimulating businesses that cater to local needs."

Vavra said she supports full disclosure of city financial problems and would rely on the community to establish the criteria for budget cuts or tax increases.

Staff writer Julie French, 482-3456 ext. 227 or jfrench@dailytidings.com.