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Ashland parks responsibly managed

There has been a persistent, albeit narrow, stream of criticism concerning how the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission manages its finances. I believe trying to answer distortions of reality on social media is a fool’s errand, but I would like to share a few facts in this traditional venue.

  • For the past 100-plus years, APRC has never exceeded the taxing authority specified in the city charter — $2.09 per $1,000 of assessed value.
  • While APRC has never asked for funds beyond the $2.09, the city has needed additional funds, and found them three years ago by reducing APRC’s allocation to $1.89 per $1,000 and increasing the city’s share of the property tax money by 20 cents per $1,000.
  • Per the Ashland city manager’s presentation at the City Council’s meetings May 23 and 24, turnover is a significant labor cost. As shown in that presentation, APRC’s turnover is substantially less (approximately half) than that of city departments combined.
  • Whenever there have been unanticipated costs that have exceeded APRC’s budget, like last summer when expensive potable city water was used to keep Oak Knoll Golf Course irrigated after TID water dried up, reductions were made in other expenses to account for the overages. As a result, APRC’s budget has remained balanced.
  • APRC has always balanced its budget, as required by state law.
  • APRC currently has 34.75 full-time equivalent employees, down from 39.75 FTE in 2018. These reductions were made to ensure a balanced budget.

In my estimation, the above factual statements do not sound like a mismanaged organization. What do you think?

In his May 23-24 presentation, the city manager proposed an additional $350,000 cut to the APRC budget. Although he said he crafted the cuts so no staff would have to be laid off, there is no way for APRC to absorb these cuts without personnel cuts. To achieve these proposed cuts, an entire recreation program may have to be eliminated. The two highest subsidized recreational programs are the Nature Center and Senior Services, both beloved by many.

At the direction of the citizens of Ashland, APRC has developed a first-class parks and recreation system. Exceptional amenities include North Mountain Park’s soccer, softball and baseball fields, North Mountain Park’s Nature Center, Lithia Park’s pickle ball courts, Scenic Park, Ashland Creek Park and Garfield Park with its basketball court, sand volleyball court and splash pad, and 50 miles of well-maintained trails along with many others.

Of course, there is a cost to maintaining Ashland’s diverse parks and recreation system. While property taxes are limited by state law to a 3% annual increase, rising health care costs and PERS retirement plan shortfalls add to APRC costs at a higher rate. As such, budgeting becomes tighter every year.

APRC gets a large share of its revenues for operating expenses from the same property tax pool as police and fire departments. Somewhat understandably, police and fire are considered by some to be untouchable, so no cuts were proposed for those two departments while APRC’s proposed cuts at the May 23-24 City Council meeting were almost 10%. These cuts are not compatible with the maintenance of a robust parks and recreation system.

If you as an Ashland citizen support maintaining a strong parks and recreation system, please make your wishes known when you receive the city-sponsored survey arriving soon in your mailbox. Show your support for funding mechanisms that direct money to parks and recreation and voice your objections to budget cuts targeting APRC.

Rick Landt is chairman of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission and can be reached at rick@ashland.or.us. The views expressed here are his own.