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Budget finalized: City hikes fees, eliminates 6 positions

Ashland City Council approved a budget Tuesday night for the 2019-2021 biennium that includes increased fees and property taxes and the elimination of six full-time positions.

The revenue hikes and job losses were used to eliminate a projected $2 million deficit in the city’s general fund.

Property taxes were increased to the maximum amount of about $4.29 per $1,000 of assessed property value. According to City Administrator Kelly Madding, the owner of a home assessed at $300,000 will pay an additional $13.50 a year.

The electric utility rates were increased an average of 3.67%. The storm drainage fee increased 1.9%; the transportation fee increased 2.5%; the water fee increased 4%, and the wastewater fee increased 4%. According to Public Works Director Paula Brown, using a scale where a household uses 1,000 cubic feet of water per month and 600 cubic feet of wastewater, the increase is $4.36 a month, which would bring the total to $123.36 for the month.

The six full-time positions that were eliminated include two police positions, one in administration, one in administration services, one court employee and one community development job.

Fire Chief Mike D’Orazi, who made roughly $200,000 a year, resigned in order to keep three firefighter positions that had been proposed for cuts.

Firefighter overtime was reduced by $100,000, and acting fire Chief David Shepherd cut $100,000 earmarked for materials and services at the request of City Council.

Councilor Tonya Graham said it wasn’t ideal, but it had to happen.

“The fire department is the biggest budget in the general fund,” Graham said. “With the constraints of how funds have to be managed in a municipal budget, there probably wasn’t going to be any way to budget this that I was going to be happy with.”

The council decided to establish a 5% franchise fee on the Ashland Fiber Network, which will provide $120,000 a year.

The parks budget remained the same as in the last biennium.

Other budget changes included a reduction in the jail bed rental program through the Ashland Police Department and reduction in the administration budget. Additional charges to building-related activities are proposed but will become effective at a later date, and recent ambulance billing contract changes will free up additional funds, City Administrator Kelly Madding said.

The council approved a resolution that allows the city to collect state revenues from cigarette, gas and liquor taxes. When a city provides certain municipal services such as police, fire and water in an Oregon county of 100,000 people or more, it can receive a portion of those revenues.

“It’s got to be a modestly full-service city to receive the revenues, and we are far beyond that,” Madding said.

All these changes resulted in a deficit in the general fund of $30,281 which was covered with money from the ending fund balance.

Most councilors were torn between needing to find the money to eliminate the deficit and not wanting to push more fees onto Ashland residents.

Councilor Steve Jensen said he could only back the recommended budget if the city promised to move forward immediately with planning sustainability for future budgets.

“The only way I can support this is if we develop a sense of urgency moving forward and that this doesn’t get pushed to the back burner,” Jensen said. “We need to take a serious, immediate look at benefits, outsourcing, revenues, ticket entertainment tax, the levy, operating money, all those things cannot continue to slide. We need to look at those things with good intention and urgency and good faith.”

The council moved that the mayor should appoint an ad hoc committee to look specifically at revenue and ways to keep Ashland resilient and a separate ad hoc committee to look at city expenses and ways to cut them to make the next budget process smoother.

Councilor Rich Rosenthal did not agree with creating two separate committees very similar to each other, but he was outvoted.

“I think this will be a disaster, but it will be entertaining to watch,” Rosenthal said. “Congratulations to the city of Ashland. We now lead the state in committees and commissions.”

Also at the meeting, council approved a contract not to exceed $3 million with LTM, Inc., to reconstruct Hersey Street and improve the railroad crossing at Laurel Street and Hersey Street.

Council approved another contract for the third phase of the Hersey Street reconstruction and railroad crossing for OBEC Consulting Engineering for $447,000.

Council approved a 2% cost-of-living adjustment for non-represented city employees, as well.

Councilor Julie Akins said the tax and rate hikes are too much for Ashland citizens and voted against them.

“The citizens are not getting cost-of-living adjustments,” Akins said. “I don’t think the average citizen can afford it. I think we’re putting too much burden on them.”

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