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State of the City on tap

John Stromberg, who will be sworn in tonight as Ashland's new mayor, will deliver the annual State of the City address at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St.

In an unusual move, Stromberg asked residents to send him their comments as he prepared for the address.

The mayor and City Council, which will include two new members, will launch into a jam-packed agenda after Stromberg's speech.

They will decide whether to allow city staff to waive penalties if restaurant and hotel owners turn in their restaurant meals tax and hotel tax payments late. The taxes are collected from patrons.

An owner could get a break from paying a penalty — which is 10 percent of the tax payment — if he or she is less than three days late and has made on-time payments for the past two years.

The council also will decide whether to repeal a 1995 ordinance that asked candidates for city office to agree to voluntary campaign spending limits.

Former City Councilor Steve Hauck, the author of the original ordinance, sent a letter asking that it be repealed because it has proven ineffective in the past few elections.

"There is no point in requiring the City Recorder to spend time and money enforcing an ordinance that no longer works," Hauck said in the letter.

Hauck said that public campaign financing rather than voluntary spending limits can be effective, but given the city's current budget problems, he doubts such a system could be adopted.

On another issue that could save the city government money, the council will decide whether to lower the amount the city contributes for street improvements like sidewalks and storm drains. That would shift more costs to neighbors who want such improvements on their streets.

The City Council will also look at whether to raise the deposit from $200 to $500 for citizens who want to place a city initiative or referendum on the ballot.

Faced with its own budget problems, Jackson County has been shifting more of the cost of elections onto cities, said City Recorder Barbara Christensen.

She said the deposit should already have been increased.

"But I never felt comfortable putting this increase through when we had a citizen initiative coming through. I wanted it to be clean," Christensen said, noting that no one is circulating petitions right now to get a referendum or initiative on the ballot.

If a referendum or initiative fails, the citizen loses the deposit. The deposit is returned if the item passes.

For a complete list of agenda items and more information on each item, visit www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=11551.

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