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Pride or prudence


Cover the bare dirt around City Hall, but let's not get carried away

At least one city official looks at Medford's new plans for landscaping around City Hall and sees something the city will be proud of for decades to come.

We don't disagree that the plans are attractive, but we do wonder whether the city should spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on landscaping in a year when it will be pressed to make ends meet.

As City Hall nears the end of a project to make it more earthquake-resistant, city leaders face the unavoidable question of what to make of the piles of mud that now dominate the acre plot on which the building stands.

At noon today, the City Council will discuss plans to spend as much as &

36;200,000 on landscaping work that could start as early as this spring. The city's urban renewal agency also is considering spending &

36;175,000 of public money on streetscaping ' trees, lights and sidewalks ' at City Hall, and plans are in the works for a fountain as well.

Medford ought to put money into making the city attractive. If it doesn't, it will become an ugly, undesirable place to be.

But we think city leaders are fooling themselves if they think there's any way spending big on landscaping a government building has the right ring to it this year.

Governments around Oregon are in financial trouble, and Medford is no different. City managers are figuring cuts now for the coming two-year budget because of problems in the state employees' retirement system. Does it help that the landscaping money is just sitting there because several City Hall jobs have gone unfilled? Barely.

A landscaping project that costs &

36;200,000 ' &

36;375,000, if the urban renewal money is included ' sounds excessive. And sound is important in a year when taxpayers have heard little from government but stories of financial woe.

Medford should spend the money it needs to spend to put the land right around City Hall. It should continue with a plan to make the plantings more drought tolerant, a move that will conserve water. But the fancy touches ' the fountain, special streetlights, new sidewalks, expensive plantings ' should wait.

They might make the city proud one day, but this isn't the day.

Signs of change

The city of Medford is posting signs about town in an attempt to reach residents who now fall through the cracks when it comes to notifying the public about proposed land-use changes. It's something that should have been done a long time ago, but we're glad to see it.

The new blue and white signs are meant to supplement legal notices published in the newspaper and notices mailed to landowners within 200 feet of property that would be affected by zoning or other changes being considered by the city's Historic, Planning or Site Plan and Architectural commissions.

Those notices are required by law, but they often don't reach everyone. Neighbors farther than 200 feet away may not hear the news, and renters often aren't aware because the notices go to the property owner, who may not pass the word along.

When what's required falls short of what actually works, the government agency involved should make the extra effort to reach everyone, and we applaud the city for doing that.

This is an experiment on the city's part. We think the county and other city governments should pay close attention, and residents should let the city know if they find the service valuable.