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Ashland officials discuss emergency declaration

Ashland city officials Friday were discussing the possibility of declaring a state of emergency from the one-two punch of the coronavirus and the economic impact of closures of many festivals in its tourist-based economy.

City Administrator Kelly Madding says she will bring the emergency declaration to Ashland City Council in the coming week, noting it’s a vital first step to applying for federal or state aid.

The move comes in the wake of Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s decision to shut down until April 8, immediately after Gov. Kate Brown banned public gatherings of more than 250 people in the worsening pandemic.

Madding said that in applying for aid, it’s the first thing they ask — whether the government at that level has agreed it’s a state of emergency.

Noting the general impact to the city’s jobs and economy, City Councilor Julie Akins posted a letter Friday on the internet calling for the city not to disconnect any utility customers for nonpayment, and to somehow “notify landlords that evictions are suspended” and that “bridge loans should be considered for impacted businesses.”

She did not state where funding would come from for loans or whether the city had authority over evictions.

Akins also said the city should work out “contingencies” for loss of tourism revenues from the occupancy taxes on motels and the food and beverage tax.

Akins sent her list of proposed remedies to the mayor, city administrator and Councilor Dennis Slattery, noting that if a council member communicates with a majority of the council, it might violate open meeting laws. Late Friday afternoon she said she had not received a reply as yet.

The mayor and city administrator haven't responded to Akins' letter.

Slattery, in a text, indicated the busy week ahead, responding to the shutdown of a huge range of events in town. He noted, “a number of things are going to come forward, and there are a bunch of people with ideas.”

Akins suggested all public meetings be suspended to comply with social-distancing recommendations, and said meetings should be held on Skype or Zoom, not in person.

Shutdowns, she said, are going to create a huge impact on the community and its economy.

“We have a lot of older people here, and they’re going to need care, and we have children under 5 who don’t have food to eat. A lot of people are gig employees (people who do “gigs” for money but don’t have jobs), and shift employees who aren’t going to get paid when restaurants close.”

For the homeless, Akin suggested leaving public bathrooms open 24 hours a day for hygiene, suspending camping tickets so people can remain near bathrooms, and increasing trash pickups in public spaces.

“I feel responsible for my community and for the people suffering,” noted Akins. “In the long term, we need things in place for crises in tourism. We need to expand our economic portfolio to year around and help business stay in business and help all of us have a place in the community and world.”