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Mayor John Morrison said the city accomplished important tasks in 2006, but faces several significant challenges this year.

The city hired a new city administrator, Ashland Fiber Network leader and community development department director and will soon name a new police chief, Morrison said during his annual State of the City address delivered Tuesday night.

AFN handed over operations of its money-losing cable television service to a private business, began work on a low-cost wireless Internet network and teamed with another business to offer telephone service over AFN's infrastructure, he said.

But Ashland faces a major challenge in the wake of voters' rejection in November 2006 of a Jackson County-wide funding plan to keep libraries open.

"I do not think that the people of Ashland should find it acceptable to have their town library closed. I certainly do not," Morrison said, sparking applause from audience members at the Ashland Civic Center. "We must work together, both within Ashland and throughout Jackson County, to secure permanent and stable funding for our library. I am encouraged that many dedicated people, both inside and outside Ashland, are already tackling this issue to find a workable solution &

and we will find a solution." Keeping mass transit as a viable option also will be an issue for the community, he said.

Bus ridership fell by 58 percent in the first three months after the Rogue Valley Transportation District cut services to close budget shortfalls, he said.

"We need to work with our partners in the region and with the major institutions and citizens of Ashland to make sure we have an effective transit system that makes it practicable for people to commute, shop and meet their basic needs on transit," Morrison said to more applause.

Ashland must work on multiple fronts to ensure that families can afford to live here. That includes making sure housing is available that families can afford, and attracting jobs that pay a living wage. To keep and attract clean industry, the town must make sure land and infrastructure are available, he said.

The community also must work to resolve issues related to the downtown, from stopping vandalism to providing parking to ensuring that the area is used by locals as well as tourists, Morrison said.

Ashland will continue its efforts to be a sustainable community, he said.

"For me, sustainability means meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs," Morrison said.

The city is focusing on using scarce water properly, switching to biodiesel fuels and hybrid vehicles when possible and developing a new solar project, he said.

Balancing the city budget is a challenge that grows more difficult each year as revenues fail to keep pace with the increasing costs of providing services.

Morrison said the city needs citizens' help to prioritize services and find methods for paying for those services.

All members of the community should work together in a civil and constructive way to address the issues facing Ashland, he said.

"We have a strong and committed City Council. We have a dedicated, talented and professional city staff. We have a dedicated cadre of citizen volunteers. We have an active and highly intelligent citizenry," Morrison said. "I look forward to working with all of these people in the year ahead to continue to make Ashland a better community for all."

Staff writer can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

State of the City address

The State of the City address was delivered by Mayor John Morrison at the city council meeting Tuesday.

Good evening. It is my pleasure to once again report to the citizens of Ashland on the state of the city.

The new year is an opportunity for us to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year and the challenges that lie ahead for 2007.

Before I begin, I would like to thank my colleagues on the City Council and to welcome our newest City officials &

Councilor Eric Navickas, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Melody Noraas and Municipal Judge Pam Burkholder Turner. Running for office takes both courage and commitment, and I look forward to working with these new officials, and with my colleagues who were reelected in November.

It has truly been a privilege for me to serve as your Mayor for another year. The City of Ashland accomplished a great deal in 2006. And while I could talk about a great number of accomplishments, I want to highlight two that I believe are most significant.

First, 2006 was a year of transition for staffing of the city. Most notably, we hired a new City Administrator, Martha Bennett. Martha brings us energy, focus and a strong set of communication skills. In her few months with us, Martha has repeatedly demonstrated her ability to quickly grasp the essence of an issue, to devise an appropriate course of action and to lead the management team to successful outcomes. We created the new position of Information Technology Director and Joe Franell has actively tackled the City's growing high tech needs and has shaped a new future for our Ashland Fiber Network. David Stalheim is our new Community Development Director. David comes to us after nine highly successful years in Wenatchee, Wash., and started work just today. Paula Brown, our Public Works Director, has recently returned from 14 months duty with the U.S. Navy, including a tour of duty in Iraq.

Paula's commitment to excellence and exceptional technical skills are much needed in Ashland. We also have recruited for a new Police Chief, and I hope to - practically any day now - announce a new Chief. In the meantime, Ron Goodpaster has ably served as our interim Police Chief. Overall, I believe 2006 has laid the groundwork for a skilled management team that will serve our city for years to come.

Secondly, resolving issues for the Ashland Fiber Network was a major focus of the City Council. In addition to hiring a new director, the City went out of the cable television business. We also began building a wireless network so that AFN could reach all Ashland addresses at a low cost. Finally, Ashland residents now have a choice in telephone services. Rio Communications is offering "Voice-Over Internet Protocol" over AFN. AFN is fulfilling its promise to bring new services, lower prices and economic opportunity to Ashland. Ashland's vision in investing in AFN was recognized in 2006 by the Intelligent Community Forum as one of the 21 cities worldwide using broadband telecommunications as part of their economic development strategies.

In addition to these overarching issues, the City grappled with many topics in 2006, ranging from the future of transit, to future development of the railroad property, to how to ensure that our water supply is permanently protected. Our 22 citizen boards and commissions tackled many more, ranging from the work of the Arts Commission in placing three sculptures downtown, to the Bike and Pedestrian Commission's continued work on the Bike Swap and Car Free Day, to the work of the Tree Commission in replacing the Tree of Heaven in the Plaza, to the training put on by our Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) to prepare Ashlanders for emergencies. I thank the City Council and the boards, commissions and committees for their work on issues that are important to our town.

The coming year will have an equal number of difficult, and potentially controversial issues. It will be a test of our community, of this City Council, and our City staff to ensure that we have constructive, civil dialogue about the threats and opportunities to Ashland's quality of life. I want to talk about seven of them.

Securing high quality library services. I do not think that the people of Ashland should find it acceptable to have their town library closed. I certainly don't.

We must work together, both within Ashland and throughout Jackson County, to secure permanent and stable funding for our library. I am encouraged that many dedicated people, both inside and outside Ashland, are already tackling this issue to find a workable solution - and we will find a solution.

Making sure transit is a viable transportation option.

Ashland has worked very hard to build a community where people do not need to rely on a car. It can be a matter of choice. We have an excellent bike network and have been designated as a bicycle friendly community. We have built sidewalks and walking paths and regulated development to make sure it supports pedestrian access. Rogue Valley Transportation District has suffered setbacks, and transit ridership in the first three months of this budget year was down 58 percent compared to the year before. This is not acceptable. We will work with our partners in the region and with the major institutions and citizens of Ashland to make sure we have an effective transit system that makes it practicable for people to commute, shop and meet their basic needs on transit.

Diversifying our economy and housing. Ashland is blessed with large city amenities and small town charm. But it comes with a high price tag &

literally!

Over the last decade, we've seen the number of children in our schools drop dramatically. The community, its institutions and its businesses must work together to make sure we are providing jobs that support families and that we have the housing families want and can afford. This is hard work that requires a long-term commitment. It is a task we confront for years, if not decades. Yet we must pursue that for the sake of the community.

Making sure we have planned areas for employment and clean industry. Whether it is the railroad property, the former Croman Mill site or elsewhere, Ashland needs to make sure we have places for the businesses we want to see move and prosper here - clean, non-polluting industry that provides a living wage for families. We must strengthen our commitment to strategies that assure the land and the infrastructure we have to make this a reality.

Resolving issues related to our downtown. The City Council made a difficult decision last year not to add funds for a new land use plan for downtown. That decision didn't make any of the issues in our downtown go away. We still need to look at the diversity of businesses downtown. We need to resolve any questions about how our development regulations work in the downtown area. We need to tackle parking in the downtown area. We need to talk about the issue of homelessness, and we need to address vandalism, whether it's Lincoln's head or the Lithia Water Fountain. The issue isn't how quickly we repair vandalism, it is how we effectively reduce it.

Downtown is the face of our community &

the part we all share and the part our visitors see and experience. It needs to be a place that welcomes people of all ages, incomes, ethnicities and backgrounds. It needs to be a place the "locals" don't just give over to the tourists all summer long. Most of all, it needs to be evaluated and valued for the key role it plays within the context of our entire community. That is something we must move toward in the coming year.

Ensuring we continue to be a leader in Oregon in building a sustainable community. For me, sustainability means meeting the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. We have many issues we need to confront to ensure Ashland is sustainable.

We'll be talking soon, for example, about making sure that Ashland uses the right water for the right purpose and that we are always mindful about wasting this precious resource. The City is also looking at ways to reduce our dependence on petroleum through simple things like switching to biodiesel fuels and hybrid electric vehicles when possible. We'll also be focusing on our new solar project and continuing effort to conserve water and energy.

Finally, every year the City Council adopts a city budget. Since I have been involved in City government, this has gotten to be more difficult each time we do it. We must prioritize our services and the levels of service and match the revenue source to those services. Like other communities in Oregon, the net effect of Ballot Measure 50 on our general fund services &

parks, police, planning, fire and ambulance &

is that our costs rise more rapidly than our revenues. Some of these costs &

like the costs of health care and the costs of fuel &

are well beyond our control. Other items, like making the annual payment on the AFN debt, pose difficult choices. For the most part, the City has done a good job of responsibly managing its resources. But the job of balancing our budget gets tougher, and we will need citizens' help in deciding which services are most critical.

These are by no means all of the issues that we'll face in 2007. These issues and the ones that arise during the year will demand we work together as a City Council and as a community. We will have to seek out divergent points of view and create an environment where creative thinking is encouraged.

And, as I said last year, I believe we can find some of the answers to the questions that face us by coming together to recreate a vision for the future of our town. We must hear from citizens about their hopes, their dreams and their visions for their community. We must talk about the services we want, the quality we expect and how we can pay for them. We're in this together.

As I conclude, I want to thank all of the people who dedicate their time and their energy to the City of Ashland. We have a strong and committed City Council.

We have a dedicated, talented and professional City staff. We have a dedicated cadre of citizen volunteers. We have an active and highly intelligent citizenry. I look forward to working with all of these people in the year ahead to continue to make Ashland a better community for all.