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Criticism of the Ashland budget misses the mark

By Stephen Jensen

The 18-cannon broadsides that a few citizens repeatedly launch toward the city of Ashland’s current governing managers and councilors are long on outrage yet lean on reality.

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We often hear these salvos starting with, “In a town of roughly 20K people, where comparable Oregon municipalities get by with an average of 85 employees, Ashland boasts a proud number of approximately 250!” Reality check: Our lovely town, a West Coast jewel, is not just any “Oregon municipality.” We are an exceptional city because we fully support the following civic entities: water treatment plant, electric department, sewer treatment plant, AFN (internet and cable TV provider), municipal airport, world class parks system, three cemeteries, a charter-anointed city band, top-rated professional fire and ambulance service, winter skating rink and vibrant senior center. A city such as ours could not legally and responsibly operate with 85 employees.

We presently bask in the attractiveness of our town because our forebears valued and invested in our civic infrastructure. They built it, they maintained it and they bestowed it upon us as an intact and fully functioning city. This reality is reflected in the inexorable upward march of real estate values which is a function of demand which is a function of desirability.

It has become an entertaining blood sport in our town to continuously prickle city staff and councilors with all of what we are doing wrong, how we are self-serving, how we are bumbling and how we are blind. It is easy, nay fun, to sit on the sidelines and throw the knives and stones. Everybody has a tactic, a leaner strategy, a simple solution. “If they would only do ...” “Why haven’t they thought of ...?”

Here are a couple of caveats as we move forward in keeping Ashland the jewel that it is:

We have cut all the low-hanging fruit in our budget and operations. We are operating with 23% fewer staff than two years ago. We have significant numbers of unfilled senior staff positions.

If we value our town as it currently exists, we cannot cut any more without seriously impacting the level of service and the infrastructure health that we will pass on to the next generation.

In closing, I urge all the folks out there who have such great ideas and life experience to run for office, get elected, and dig into the realities of our civic governance. Those simple solutions and budget meat-axes get tempered quickly when you are now the one being asked, “Where would you cut? Whose ox are you going to gore?” Suddenly, the solutions are not so simple and the meat-axes are not so eager and sharp — and the blood-sport loses its punch.

Stephen Jensen is a member of the Ashland City Council.