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Residents rank goals set for city

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, studying the issue of homelessness or replacing Fire Station No. 2.

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.

Councilors Greg Lemhouse and Carol Voisin will review input on the draft values and vision statements and then propose revised statements.

The council hopes to adopt final vision and values statements in November.

The goals are concrete steps the council wants to focus on during the next two years. The public input will help guide the city's budgeting process for the coming fiscal year.

"It's an attempt on a person-to-person level to interact with the community and harvest the wisdom and insight and expertise and bring it to bear on these key decisions," Mayor John Stromberg said.

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.

City staff compiled a summary of residents' comments about the different goals for the councilors to review, but without the names of residents listed. The summary covered comments that were turned in by the official deadline of Sept. 21.

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.

Opinions were mixed about connecting to Medford's system through the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix water pipeline, which doesn't yet stretch to Ashland.

"We need to tie into the Medford water system before it becomes economically unfeasible," one person said.

But another resident said "I am not a supporter of TAP and don't think we should do it any time soon. We should live within the water capacity of our own resources."

A total of 51 people ranked making city government buildings and operations models of water, energy and land efficiency as important.

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.

Creating strong incentives for environmentally friendly development, improving the clarity of the planning process and working with partners outside Ashland to restore rail service to and through town were medium priorities for residents.

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.

"I still don't understand the affordable housing 'crisis' here," one resident said. "The rental opportunities are vast and incredibly diverse. Many families that need affordable housing should not be lured into home ownership if it's not fiscally right for them. If renting works, why is it so stigmatized?"

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.

Completing a Croman Master Plan and developing a plan for funding and infrastructure work for the former Croman Mill site — Ashland's largest block of undeveloped land — was important to just 25 people.

Many residents said the planning process is taking too long and developing the site is not a proper role for city government.

Only 22 people said it was important to replace Fire Station No. 2, the small, aging fire station on Ashland Street.

Fire Station No. 1 downtown was previously replaced with a larger, modern building after voters approved a construction bond, but voters later rejected a bond to replace the second fire station.

"While this is an important goal, we need to wait until the economy recovers to provide the funds to built it," one person said.

Although they had concerns about the cost of replacing the station, with some advocating that the city seek outside grants, many residents sympathized with the firefighters who work there.

"I applaud these people for going to work every day in this deplorable facility. We owe these men and women a better working environment," a resident commented.

Council draft values are good government, the environment, responsible land use, free expression, diversity, the economy, independence, personal well-being and sense of community.

The council's draft vision statement, which describes the ideal Ashland of the future, includes hopes that the town would have vibrant and diverse neighborhoods, an outstanding school system, a healthy environment, ubiquitous solar panels and community gardens, a wealth of outdoor and cultural events, family wage jobs, healthy forests nearby and a well-respected government.

To read about all the council goals and to see more resident reaction to the council goals and the values and vision statements, visit http://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=12240.

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