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Priorities for Ashlanders are forest health, reduced fire threat

ASHLAND — Residents place a high priority on reducing fire danger in the Ashland Watershed, ensuring the financial health of the parks department and strengthening the local economy, but they're less interested in providing affordable housing or studying the issue of homelessness.

That snapshot of residents' views — although not a scientific poll — emerged during a three-month-long public input period on City Council goals.

The council adopted 15 goals in June, along with draft vision and values statements, and then invited public comments through September. The council hopes to adopt final vision and values statements in November.

Residents who responded to the request for comments were asked to rank various goals as "important" or "not important," or to answer that they had no opinion.

The goal to foster strong collaboration of the local community and city, state and federal leaders to improve forest health and reduce fire hazards in the Ashland Watershed ranked highest, with 57 residents saying it was important. Only seven people said it was not important or didn't have an opinion.

"Absolutely imperative!" was among the comments advocating action, with some also saying the work needed to be done in an ecologically responsible manner.

Developing a plan for fiscal stability, cost management, prioritization of services and stable revenue streams for the Ashland Parks & Recreation Department ranked as important to 55 people.

Developing and implementing a comprehensive economic development strategy was important to 51 people who commented.

When various steps to achieve that goal were listed, 55 people favored diversifying the economic base of the community, while the smallest number, 46, wanted to take advantage of Ashland's tourism industry.

In comments, residents advocated diversification by promoting jobs in manufacturing, recycling, food production, technology and renewable energy, as well as encouraging businesses that serve retirees.

Addressing Ashland's long-term water needs was important to 51 people. Breaking down that goal into options, 60 people favored conservation and water reuse, while 45 wanted to focus on the security of the water supply and backing up the Ashland Watershed with another source of water.

Developing plans to increase the viability of mass transit, biking, walking and other alternative methods of transportation was important to 50 people.

In steps toward that goal, 58 people favored providing safe walking and biking routes, while only 38 wanted to minimize car infrastructure.

"I would agree that reducing car travel is important for the environment in general, but the reality for senior citizens and the disabled living in the hills of Ashland is that there are no viable alternatives to car travel to get around Ashland, especially in winter," one person said.

Only 37 people said developing a long-term strategy for the city-owned Ashland Fiber Network was important, with many people commenting that the city should not be in the Internet business.

Developing affordable housing on Clay Street was important to only 30 people. The city, Jackson County and state government have teamed up on the 60-unit housing project.

Many residents questioned the worth of conducting a study on homelessness in Ashland, with only 28 saying it was important.

A number of residents said homelessness is beyond Ashland's control because some people choose to be homeless, while other homeless people are veterans, mentally ill or addicted to drugs or alcohol and there are inadequate services throughout society to help them.

Vickie Aldous is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.