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State of the City: Lots done, lots more to do

The city’s shutting off your water.

That’s what Mayor John Stromberg asked the audience at the State of the City celebration Wednesday to imagine.

“Imagine we’re getting out of the water business tonight,” he said, chuckling. “It’s gone. Then imagine we’re getting out of the wastewater treatment game too. Then electric, and Ashland Fiber Net, so even if you have a back-up generator, you can’t watch cable.”

He went on down the line, listing essential services the city provides, such as fire and police.

“What would this town be like?” he asked. “We would be reduced to a primitive existence. Ashland is such a civilized town and the city provides that.”

“You start to think of your city in a different way,” Stromberg said. “Without those services, this city wouldn’t exist.”

Of those essential services, the fire department was one of the most-oftened mentioned in reviewing the past year. Ashland saw one of the worst and longest smoke seasons in many years in 2018, and yet great progress was made.

The program SmokeWise Ashland was developed to educate citizens on how they can protect their health during days of intense wildfire smoke. An update to this program is coming in the next couple of months, Stromberg said.

The city is currently reevaluating its evacuation plans, even as the Camp Fire that consumed Paradise, California, is still fresh in everyone’s minds.

The Ashland Fire Resiliency project conducted control burns on roughly 942 acres of brush in the Ashland watershed last fall.

They also completed helicopter tree thinning and netted over $6 million from small trees sold to local mills from that project to help cover costs, City Councilor Tonya Graham said.

The city passed the Wildfire Mitigation Ordinance, one of 17 ordinances and 29 resolutions passed last year.

A new fire chief, Mike D’Orazi, was hired, as well as City Administrator Kelly Madding, Administrative Services Director Mark Welch and Tom McBartlett, who was promoted to electric director.

Administrative services launched ashlandor.opengov.com to increase city financial transparency.

The police department responded to 29,228 calls for service, placed 19 people into substance abuse treatment through the Gateway Program and established a domestic violence outreach program.

Parks and Recreation hired new Senior Services Division Superintendent Isleen Glatt to revamp the senior services division, as well as Division Superintendent Mike Oxendine and golf course manager Patrick Oropallo.

Parks also announced last year it would receive a $1.3 million donation to renovate the Japanese-style garden (a gift that was put on hold the next day, Thursday; see story, A5).

The 68-unit sustainable Verde Village development near the Ashland Dog Park was completed and a 33-unit housing project adjacent to the high school football stadium began construction.

The Transit Triangle overlay was approved to encourage infill strategies.

The city distributed $300,000 in affordable housing trust funds to help develop 29 permanently affordable units. The program also awarded $134,000 in social service grants to local nonprofit organizations which serve low-income residents.

There were many more high-points of 2018, but there were also many lows.

The mayor addressed these lows in as positive a light as he could.

“How do we move through this coming year in a positive way, yet remain resilient?” he asked.

He touched on all the big problems from homelessness to Public Employees Retirement System (PERS).

“This is strangling local government in Ashland,” Stromberg said, referring to PERS.

He touched on how the federal and state level governmental decisions impact Ashland. He then looped back to local democracy and how Ashland’s system has built in checks and balances.

“Ashland is the sweet spot for democracy,” Stromberg said. “You know the people who are making decisions in Ashland, you bump into them on the street.”

City Councilor Stefani Seffinger presented the James M. Ragland Volunteer Spirit Award to Risa Buck.

“If we all lived the way Risa lives, our planet would be a healthier place,” Seffinger said.

Buck is on the Conservation Commission, the pool ad-hoc committee and has served as a liaison for a Recology commission. She also writes the WasteNot conservation awareness column for the Tidings.

“Her conservation efforts have benefited all kinds of projects in the city, including our recycling baskets, hosting gray water workshops, the straws for demand program, compost classes, the plastic bag ordinance and many other things,” Seffinger said.

Buck joked that upon receiving the award she would meet the mayor at Ashland hardware to get her copy of the keys to the city.

“Keys to the city are very much related to democracy because nobody gives you keys to a city, you actually have to take them and you take it by participating, by joining in and finding where you can participate,” Buck said.

Michael Morris was awarded the Alan M. Bates Public Service Award. Morris has served on numerous boards, including Rogue Valley Council of Governments, Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development, Inc. and the Chamber of Commerce. He also spent 13 years on the Planning Commission and eight years on the City Council.

While presenting the award to Morris, Councilor Rich Rosenthal said he calculated that Morris has spent the equivalent of three full months of meetings during his 21 years of service.

“Many people also don’t know that he performs pro bono maintenance for the Presbyterian Church, the shelter there and many other organizations,” Rosenthal said. “He lives and breathes the city.”

Morris said he wasn’t prepared to receive the award.

“I worked on Alan Bates’ original campaign and I knew Alan Bates,” Morris said. “Although I hate to say it, I appreciate the award, but I am not Alan Bates, and those are big shoes to fill and now I guess I’ve got to step my game up,” Morris said.

Councilor Dennis Slattery ended the evening with a compliment to the community.

“The volunteer ethic in this community is incredible,” Slattery said. “We’re a special community. We get very passionate about the things we believe in, and that’s a good thing.”

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Ashland mayor John Stromberg gives the "State of the City" address Wednesday night at Ashland Springs Hotel. Photo by Denise Baratta
Risa Buck is the recipient of the James M. Ragland "Volunteer Spirit" award. Photo by Denise Baratta