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A good starting point

Ashland’s finance director is off to a good start with his proposal to balance the city’s budget for the next biennium, calling for a mix of staff cuts and modest fee increases to eliminate a $2 million deficit.

Cuts are never pleasant, and they can be especially uncomfortable when they come in high-profile departments such as police and fire, as Mark Welch is suggesting. But under the circumstances, those cuts are appropriate.

Welch presented his proposal to the City Council and Citizens Budget Committee last week. Among other staff cuts, it calls for eliminating two police officers and reducing the number of firefighters on a daily shift from nine to eight.

The council approved adding four new police officers two years ago, but without a funding mechanism in place. Councilors later imposed a property tax increase along with a utility surcharge for two of the positions and approved a temporary fee on monthly utility bills to fund the other two while looking for a permanent solution. In a previous move, the council approved adding firefighter positions without a sustainable funding source.

Those decisions were unpopular with many residents.

Now it’s time to face facts, and Welch’s proposal provides a solid starting point. The city simply cannot continue to live beyond its means, tapping residents’ bank accounts every time more staff is needed.

His announced departure for another position is unfortunate, but Welch will leave the city’s finances in better shape than he found them if elected officials take his advice.

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