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Council increases fees for public safety, parks

Residents in Phoenix will see $5 added to their monthly water bills beginning in August after Mayor Chris Luz cast the deciding votes when City Council split on implementing the charges Monday.

The fees include a $3 public safety charge and $2 for parks maintenance.

Council reduced the original public safety proposal from $5 and will cut the contingency funds in fiscal year 2019-20 from $100,000 to $50,000 to make up the difference. The fees and contingency money will total $170,000 to fill a projected budget gap.

Even with the fees, city staffing will be reduced. A full-time parks maintenance worker will be cut, and a proposed part-time position for management of the new Civic Center will not be filled. In addition, seven nonunion staffers will not receive pay raises in the coming fiscal year. The city will have 23.75 employees next year.

Councilors Terry Baker, Robert Crawford and Angie Vermillion voted against the fees. Councilors Jim Snyder, Stuart Warren and Sara Westover voted for them.

Emergency provisions were dropped from the ordinances that would have allowed the fees to be enacted July 1. Instead, they will appear on bills Aug. 1. Rates for multifamily housing, such as apartments, were set at 80% of the rate for single-family residences. Provisions in the ordinances will allow low-income citizens to seek relief from the fees.

“To say it’s an emergency and pass it on to the citizens, it’s not done right. It’s like a black eye on the city,” Vermillion said during deliberations. She suggested using all of the contingency funds and looking at unappropriated end balances in other accounts.

“That gives us time to give things to the public and have open meetings and decide what we have to cut,” said Vermillion.

Council members and residents were both critical about the late alert made by city staff on the problem. Luz said the shortfall wasn’t fully revealed until a Budget Committee session in May.

“I think the council should have been notified earlier in the process,” Luz said Tuesday. “We have been assured by the city manager and the finance director that we will be kept better up to date regarding the budget.”

Former councilor Michael Shunk said during a public hearing that when he served during 2017 and 2018, the council was told the city was in good financial shape.

“It sounds like you have known about this for a while,” said Shrunk. “If we had known about this a couple years ago, there would have been more options.”

“I just hope that there is some accountability. How we got here is more important,” said Tony Chavez. Answers to that question could inform future budget decisions, he said.

Changes have been made in employee assignments to accommodate the budget constraints.

A vacant public works director position will not be filled. Instead, lead public works employee Matias Mendez has been promoted to the position of public works supervisor, a post that existed until Ray DiPasquale was hired in 2016. DiPasquale resigned in May. The city had a public works supervisor prior to DiPasquale’s arrival. The new arrangement will result in some savings, said City Manager Aaron Prunty.

City Recorder Kimberlyn Collins will handle management duties for the Civic Center and drop her role as assistant city manager. Center management had been handled by a federal Resource Assistance for Rural Environments intern. Temporary workers will be hired assist with park maintenance.

“We are the only small city in the area that doesn’t have any additional fees. We haven’t had any fees for many, many years,” Luz said Tuesday. “We need to see some development going to get some more taxes. We don’t have any development going on like Medford or Talent or Central Point.”

Reach Ashland freelance writer Tony Boom at tboomwriter@gmail.com.

The Phoenix Plaza opened last summer on Highway 99. Photo fromo phoenixciviccenter.org.