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Citizen Budget Committee rolls up its sleeves

Tidings file photo of Ashland city hall.
City Finance director says this budget will focus more heavily on long-term vision than previous budgets

City Manager Pro Tem Adam Hanks presented his 2021-2023 budget recommendation to the Ashland Citizens’ Budget Committee on Tuesday, opening the door to three months of budget-oriented public discussion headed into the next fiscal year.

The budget development process comes in the wake of economic challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, new priorities revealed by the Almeda fire and other factors, Hanks said.

“The prior and current council both were very interested in having a more robust strategic planning process — more robust goal-setting process,” Hanks said. “The events of the world sort of conspired against us a bit, and we didn’t collectively get as large and significant of a process as everyone would have liked.”

Hanks said goals, community values and aspirations are still “embedded” in the budget recommendation.

The combined cost of city salaries, materials and services align with Consumer Price Index averages but exceed revenue, causing a “structural imbalance” in the general fund, Hanks said.

“We’re in the status quo, but that backlog arrow is nipping at our heels,” Hanks said, referencing a “balancing priorities” financial model that progresses from emergency status through backlog, status quo, sustainable and resilient.

“We’re hoping and expecting this budget that we recommended and the final product to at least get us to the front tip of that status quo,” he continued, adding that achieving resilience will likely be a 10-year process.

This biennial budget process focuses on themes of homeless services, affordable housing, economic development and emergency management, all through the lens of diversity, equity and inclusion, climate change and long-term financial responsibility beyond a biennial time period, Hanks said.

Looking ahead, Ashland City Council faces budgetary decisions that will influence funding for the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission, plans for local ambulance services, infrastructure improvement planning, wildfire prevention and emergency management, reinvestment in the Ashland Fiber Network and regional public safety operations, Hanks said.

The Citizens’ Budget Committee reviews the proposed budget, holds public hearings and recommends a balanced budget to the City Council. The committee is not responsible for altering policies, priorities or programs set by the council.

“The primary role of the committee is to ensure expenditures do not exceed revenues and the overall budget is consistent with the service priorities of the mayor and council,” according to the city.

The Citizens’ Budget Committee obtained public input regarding financial prioritization through two surveys released in mid-March.

A total of 137 people responded to a community budget survey open to the public March 10-16. Nearly half of respondents said they follow news about city government and finances “somewhat closely,” followed by more than a quarter who said they follow “not too closely.”

Nearly half (48.2%) said they believe fire prevention and emergency management are among the top three concerns facing the city, followed by affordable housing and city finances (both 38.7%).

City Finance Director Melanie Purcell said this budget process will focus more heavily on long-term vision than previous budgets, with mandated services at the base and greater definition about which services are necessary, expected by the community or elective.

Shane Hunter accepted a nomination for committee chairperson, and Jim Bachman accepted a nomination for vice chair during the Tuesday meeting.

The next meeting of the Citizens Budget Committee is scheduled for April 13 and will feature a presentation of budgeted governmental funds including the general, streets, stormwater, Community Development Block Grant, airport, housing, capital and parks general funds.