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Phoenix sessions draw comments on government workings

Phoenix residents are not happy about how fees for public safety and parks came about and the recent resignations of two top staff members. They voiced their concerns at a town hall meeting on the fees and at a City Council session Monday.

City Recorder Kimberlyn Collins gave 30 days notice Sept. 10, and Community Development Director Evan MacKenzie gave notice Oct. 1, with his last day Oct. 11.

Phoenix City Council enacted the assessments in late June after being told a $171,000 budget shortfall would require layoffs without the new fees.

About 18 residents attended the town hall, and a dozen of them spoke either during the council meeting or the town hall.

“Something isn’t right. It needs to be a place where people want to work,” said Martha Hess. “We are losing people over and over and over again. Dig as deep as you need to dig. Something is rotten.”

“None of us wanted to leave. The environment made it easier to make that choice,” MacKenzie said during a phone interview Wednesday. He will become community development director in Veneta. He said he wanted to see the vision in Phoenix to completion, which he estimated would have taken 15 years.

Efforts to bring 453 acres on both sides of North Phoenix Road, including the Arrowhead Ranch, into city limits for development will suffer with the loss of MacKenzie, former City Councilor Mike Stitt said. He called on the city to bring MacKenzie back. The property is in the city’s urban growth reserve as designated by the Regional Problem Solving process.

“I was building momentum. I think that some other people in the valley were starting to see where we could take it,” said MacKenzie. “It’s a nice town. Everybody I dealt with in the public was wonderful to work with. I would like to think we did a good job of taking care of people.”

Work needs to be completed on city comprehensive plan revisions before the next step to bring the land into the city’s urban growth boundary. Former Community Development Director Matt Brinkley, now Medford’s planning director, is performing some of that work under contract. The city is also looking at contracting with the Rogue Valley Council of Governments to handle planning issues following MacKenzie’s resignation, City Manager Arron Prunty said.

The first words Collins said to Carolyna Marshall, who coordinates twice-monthly Phoenix Kitchen Community Dinners, were “I’m going to help you,” Marshall said.

“She was incredibly helpful,” said Phoenix Bee City subcommittee Chair Sharon Schmidt of Collin’s work.

Bonnie Pickett has been hired to be the new city recorder and will begin work Oct. 21, said Prunty. She has been working for the city of Shady Cove.

Council was told in May by city staff there would be a $171,000 general fund shortfall and they recommended passing a $5 fee for public safety and $2 for parks maintenance to fill the shortfall. After budget reductions, a $5 combination fee for the services through water bills was passed by the council and went into effect in August.

Subsequently the council was told by Finance Director J.C. Boothe that the shortfall would only be $55,000. Prunty said there was a reduction in expenses and an increase in revenues projected for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

Members of the public and councilors were critical of staff. Councilor Angie Vermillion, who voted against the fees, voiced concerns about the change to the deficit amounts. Christine Totten asked how that could be prevented.

“Has there been an employee review? How do you keep this from happening again,” said Totten. “If you people don’t have that (budget information) you have a problem with staff,” Stitt told the council.

Mayor Chris Luz said he didn’t know until May about the shortfall, although staff apparently knew earlier.

“I don’t want to be surprised again,” said Luz. He said the council plans to receive regular updates on budget status in the future and will seek earlier projections.

Handling of the shortfall was also criticized. Stitt said the council could have borrowed money from another city fund while it figured us how to deal with the shortfall rather than enacting the fee.

“Why wasn’t a town hall held first?” asked Marshall about the period when the council enacted the fees. “The way things are done just adds to the drama.”

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

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