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Parks Commission is attempting to short-circuit the Ashland budget process

What’s wrong with the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission? Haven’t they heard that the city’s budget is under extreme stress, on an unsustainable path toward a day when it is unable to meet the city’s needs? Of course they have. Then why are they doing everything they can to subvert a careful and thoughtful examination of the city’s needs and priorities regarding budgeting in the future?

The City Council understands the problem. They have correctly determined that they must examine all of the demands on the budget before deciding how to proceed. They have correctly decided to hear from all of the city departments before making decisions regarding the budget. They realize that the city has limited resources. They realize that priorities must be determined and accommodated. They have a process in place to do just that.

But the APRC, following the lead of Parks Director Michael Black, wants to operate in a bubble, in a world of their own. They want the city to ignore other needs in order to give them guaranteed funding. They say they can’t function without the certainty of knowing that they will have at least a certain, arbitrary, fixed amount upon which to base their spending plans.

They act as though it doesn’t occur to them that other departments in the city need funding just as surely as the parks department.

They clearly understand that there isn’t enough tax revenue to fund them at their desired level of spending. So instead of modifying their expectations to correspond to reality, they’ve come up with a great new plan. It’s their Christmas wish for you: increase taxes.

They have devoted a portion of virtually every APRC meeting this year to this topic. They even held an emergency meeting on the day before Christmas Eve to discuss nothing but that: how to increase your taxes.

There are two ways they can achieve that. They can convince the voters to approve a temporary special levy to finance their operations. Or they can divorce themselves from the rest of the city government and become a special district with the ability to levy taxes on its own.

To achieve either of these goals, the voters must approve. To get either proposal on the ballot, they must either gather enough signatures to have a question placed on the ballot, or they must convince the City Council to vote to place the question on the ballot.

Apparently, to their credit, the council is not willing to do that at this time. They want to follow the process they have developed to examine the city’s needs in totality, and decide how to proceed once that process is complete.

But APRC’s hair is on fire! They’ve got to know ASAP what their funding is going to be in the future. Never mind that their funding has always varied to some degree, regardless of their claims to the contrary. Never mind that every department has to deal with some level of uncertainty, just like every individual, every family, every business, every government entity in the world. There is no such thing as a sure thing in life. We all must deal with uncertainty. We plan and do the best we can. We are able to adapt to changing circumstances.

APRC has made statements to suggest that unless they know what their budget will be for years in advance, the department would be unable to function. They threaten dire consequences, reduction of services, wrack and ruin in the park system. They’re playing the fear card. This is the height of absurdity and hyperbole. Nothing could be farther from the truth. It’s unadulterated malarkey.

No one is talking about “defunding” the Parks Department.

If their budget were to be reduced slightly, they would simply have to adjust their priorities and make do with the available resources. No one is suggesting any radical reductions in their funding. Just like any other organization — or organism, for that matter — they would tighten their belt, reexamine their priorities, increase efficiencies, and do they best they can given the circumstances. They would adapt.

But that is not APRC’s answer. They just want to increase their funding, regardless of the effects on the rest of Ashland’s government and its citizens.

Make no mistake: In the coming decades the city of Ashland is facing very serious funding needs. Infrastructure must be maintained. There is a total of $286,585,685 in the adopted Capital Improvements Plan between now and 2040. That is in today’s dollars. And that is only the projects that are anticipated, not including the projects that we don’t even realize will need to be funded. To repeat, that’s $286 million. And there are about 21,000 of us living in Ashland who will have to pay for all of these projects over the next two decades, through grants and fees and taxes.

So one thing is a sure bet: Rates and fees will be increasing significantly in the years ahead to fund these projects, as well as the day to day operation of our city. We can see it coming. We have been forewarned.

Dean Silver lives in Ashland.