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Ashland council approves $8.2 million bond measure

The Ashland City Council will send a pared down $8.2 million bond to voters in May after deciding during Tuesday’s meeting to include only the replacement or renovation of city hall and the renovation of Pioneer Hall and the Community Center on the ballot.

The council had considered a $10.6 million bond that included $2.1 million for a solar system and $350,000 to renovate the Butler-Perozzi Fountain, but in a series of votes those items were eliminated from the final proposal as counselors decided a leaner bond stood a better chance of passing.

Also Tuesday, the council approved by a 5-1 vote to lease a portion of the city’s Imperatrice property to the Land Manatee Foundation, one of only two organizations that responded to the city’s publicly advertised request for proposals last November.

Following the public hearings section of the meeting that included five speakers, including former Ashland mayor Cathy Shaw and former counselors Carol Voisin and Eric Navickas, the council debated the merits of each item on the proposal for about an hour before cleaving the fountain by a 6-0 vote. The council next eliminated the solar project from the final bond proposal by a 4-2 vote.

There was plenty of general support for the solar yard, which was to be used as an emergency back-up for the city, but it fell well short of being added to the bond when it came time for a roll call. When contacted Wednesday, counselor Rich Rosenthal, who voted to keep the solar yard in the proposal, said axing it may have been a missed opportunity.

“I don’t think it would have killed the bond, I think it would have strengthened it,” he said. “I think it puts the ‘A’ into the climate and energy action plan. Many residents of Ashland are very engaged with the climate consideration and here we had an opportunity to actually take action on something. The votes weren’t there on council but I don’t think that necessarily means that there wasn’t support in the community for it or that it would weaken (the bond).”

During the meeting, councilor Dennis Slattery countered that restoring city hall needed to be the focus and anything beyond that would likely be a hard sell to Ashland voters.

“I have great respect people who thought we should have solar panels, thought we should have the Perozzi Fountain in the bond, I just disagree that it should be this bond or this method,” he said Wednesday. “I think we should do those kinds of things but I think we should find another way to do them. I think they’re important considerations, but I think you can only ask people for so much and I think we’ve tapped out with the three items that we put forward.

“I’ve expressed that concern from the beginning, that it was just too much. ... If you go forward with five things on a bond ballot, you get resistance on five different fronts and you have to defend each one of those fronts and so it just makes the bond that much more difficult to pass. I think we made a wise decision to narrow the scope. I personally would have narrowed it more.”

Slattery added that he would have rather explored other funding options for both Pioneer Hall and the Community Center and included only city hall in the bond, but understands why the council chose otherwise.

As for the solar improvements, Rosenthal is hopeful that the plan will come back to the council in another form.

“Of course there are other ways,” he said. “Its day has not yet come, but I think there will be a time where Ashland will vote on a package of climate-centric issues. It’s just not going to be this May.

“It was obvious that city hall is the most important consideration, and I’m pretty confident that the city hall project will be a restoration of this historic building, as there’s strong interest in the community for historic preservation. So I think it will go that way; it’s just a very complex project and something needs to happen to city hall one way or another and the longer we wait the more expensive it will be. At least this puts the question to voters: ‘Is city hall important to the community?’ And we will have a referendum on that, and that’s good.”

The 20-year bond would, if passed, would cost Ashland residents 20.90 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — that amounts to $83.60 per year for $400,000 of assessed value. It would replace, at least in part, the current Jackson County libraries and Fire District 2 bond of 23 cents per $1,000 that will be paid off in June.

Yet to be determined is whether the city’s chosen architect, Medford-based ORW Architecture, will be tasked with drawing up plans to replace city hall or renovate it. Building a new two-story city hall would have a faster completion time (six months, instead of 10 months), allow for 600 square feet of additional space and cost about the same as a renovation (an estimated $450 per square foot), but may not be doable.

As City Administrator Kelly Madding said during the meeting, the city would need a demolition permit in order to tear down three of the building’s walls. And even if it retains those walls, she added, it must go through a site review process.

“So this week, ideally, we’ll meet with ORW Architecture and talk about next steps,” Madding said, adding that she’s targeting a Friday sit-down. “And really talk about those steps that need to be taken between now and the election to provide some information back to the city council on determining the best course of action, whether it’s to build a brand new city hall or to build a building within the walls of the current city hall.”

City hall was built with unreinforced masonry, which is, according to a representative from the Oregon Department of Geology and Mining Industries, the most unstable kind of building during an earthquake.

Also Tuesday, the council approved a contract with Robertson Sherwood Architects for the Eugene-based firm to provide design and construction documents for the Daniel Meyer Pool replacement at a cost of $161,130; honored Oak Knoll Golf Course head golf pro Patrick Oropallo for a program through which the local course provides complimentary instruction to veterans; and reviewed the operation of transportation network companies Uber and Lyft with police chief Tighe O’Meara, who said approximately 86 drivers have been approved within city limits since March of 2019.

The Land Manatee Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Renee DeLaunay-Altman in 2018, agreed to pay the costs associated with the Imperatrice property — that came to $8,558.87 in 2019 — plus $1 to operate a restorative and regenerative ranch for cattle and horses. The initial term of the lease is two years with the option of up to three successive terms of one year each for a total of up to five years.

DeLaunay-Altman talked about her techniques for about 10 minutes then answered questions for another 10. Julie Akins represented the one dissenting vote.

Reach reporter Joe Zavala at 541-776-4469 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.