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$8.2 million Ashland City Hall bond goes down

Ashland voters Tuesday rejected an $8.2 million general obligation bond to fund the renovation of City Hall and repairs to Pioneer Hall and the Community Center.

Measure 15-193 was defeated 69.3% to 30.7%, with 5,708 voting no and 2,526 voting yes, according to early results from the Jackson County Elections Office.

Placed on the ballot not long before the full impact of COVID-19 started to take hold in Ashland, the bond would have funded a planned $7.2 million restoration of City Hall and $500,000 worth of repairs to both Pioneer Hall and the Community Center. It would have cost Ashland taxpayers 21 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, or $64.79 annually for a home assessed at $310,000, for 20 years.

Instead, Ashlanders tossed the issue back to city leaders to figure out another way to fund necessary repairs, which include making City Hall earthquake resistant, a new roof, wall and foundation repairs at the Community Center and roof repairs and seismic upgrades at Pioneer Hall.

Opponents of the measure, such as Susan Wilson of Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability, breathed a sigh of relief upon learning of the results.

“I was just incredibly happy that Ashlanders understood how important this was and they voted the way they did,” said Wilson, the ACES treasurer. “I think because this vote took place during a pandemic that is part of the reason for the extreme result, but I think it would have failed even without the pandemic going on. I think it’s pretty definitive.”

Wilson said the town’s financial standing was “precarious” even before COVID-19 hit, and the price tag was simply too steep, even if a pandemic wasn’t stifling the local economy.

“This is just something we couldn’t afford,” she said. “We have so many other priorities that are more important. This only benefits a very few, whereas we need to look at city actions that will benefit all citizens and all taxpayers.”

Ashland City Council had considered a $10.6 million bond that would have included $2.1 million for a solar power system and $350,000 to renovate the Butler-Perozzi Fountain, but in a series of votes during a meeting Feb. 18, those items were eliminated from the final proposal as councilors decided a leaner bond stood a better chance of passing.

Mayor John Stromberg and councilors Stephen Jensen, Rich Rosenthal and Stefani Seffinger supported the bond, with Stromberg penning an argument in favor for the Voters’ Pamphlet.

“We kind of expected this,” Jensen said. “It was a heavy lift to begin with, and I think COVID-19 was the death sentence. But I totally understand and respect the will of the people and we’ll move on with a new plan.”

Jensen added that he hopes the bond’s failure marks an end to the nasty rhetoric that came with it, particularly on social media.

“One thing I would say is that I would hope that some folks would not continue to vilify councilors that voted to put this before the people. To invite citizens to have their say in this important matter shouldn’t bring out the ire of the citizens. That’s what democracy is all about. We bring it forth then abide by the decision, and then we move forward with grace and understanding.”

The Ashland city council met Tuesday night, and calls to Stromberg, Rosenthal and councilor Dennis Slattery were not returned.

“Once we get through this pandemic, ACES supports rehabbing City Hall,” Wilson said. “We just believe that the price is inflated. What we would propose is doing what (Ashland historian) George Kramer recommends, which is sitting down with the city, negotiating a building and a price and changes that the city can afford.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

file photoAshland voters rejected a $8.2 million bond Tuesday that would have given City Hall a seismic upgrade.