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Ashland City Council votes to defer meals tax decision

ASHLAND ' The City Council Tuesday deferred asking voters to raise the food and beverage tax another penny to finance the purchase of parks, trails and open space.

Leading to the decision were other money requests, opposition to the tax, suggestions to look at alternatives and withdrawal of support.

We are going to be facing a school activities levy. I don't want to pit voters against voters, said Councilman John Morrison. Our dream of more open space may need to be deferred.

Last year the council and the parks commission approved a 10-year land purchase plan after a series of public meetings. The current five-cents-on-the-dollar tax was enacted in 1993. Most of the revenue that will be generated before it expires in 2010 has been allocated for purchases.

The council on Feb. 4 voted 4-2 against a parks commission proposal that called for the allocation of the tax to be changed to 40 percent for land and 60 percent for the wastewater treatment plant. The present allocation is 80 percent for the plant and 20 percent for parks

The council called for a study of the six-cent rate at the Feb. 4 meeting. The increase would raise about &

36;330,000 more annually.

A poor economy and uncertainty over the priority of trails in future acquisitions prompted council member Kate Jackson to say she'd like to wait before seeking a public vote.

Several issues arose in public testimony.

The meals tax has alienated much of the Medford and greater Jackson County community, said Ron Roth of Geppetto's restaurant.

I saw no imagination as to where we might get some funding, said restaurant owner Alex Reid. He said Jacksonville had built a trail system through grants and volunteer work.

It's a regressive tax on small business, said Eric Navickas.

I'm tired of having a single issue put forward as if the life of the community depends on it, said Jack Hardesty, who opposed an increase.

Guy Nutter, who suggested the one-cent raise on Feb. 4, withdrew his support for the proposal. He said the parks commission does not appear to support acquisition of trails.

But other speakers supported the increase.

The business community has kind of forgotten the 300,000 visitors, said Bryan Holley. The average visitor doesn't find that (tax) abusive.

In my opinion, this (increase) is a small price to pay for the benefits, said Parks Commission Chairman Jim Lewis.

Reach Ashland bureau reporter Tony Boom at 482-4651, or e-mail

Resolution approved to protect civil liberties

ASHLAND ' The City Council unanimously approved a resolution to protect civil liberties by defining actions of city employees, particularly police, under the federal USA Patriot Act.

An overflow crowd of more than 80 attended the session. More than a dozen speakers supported the resolution. Two opposed it.

The Ashland Patriots proposed the resolution. Council adopted the patriot's version rather than a shorter one drafted by City Attorney Paul Nolte.

Under the resolutions, Ashland police would need to get written assurances about the rights of individuals in custody under the act, refrain from programs that encourage spying on neighbors and request annual reports from state and federal officials of actions taken under the act within city limits.