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Ashland residents asked to help city make hard choices

Andy Atkinson / Daily Tidings Ashland City Hall

Stark choices face Ashland City Council as it attempts to plug a $2 million hole in the city’s budget. Councilors want residents to jump into the breach with a survey aimed at identifying the city’s priorities.

The council is discussing cuts and limitations of services to address the budget shortfall. To prepare residents and give them the opportunity to participate in the hard work ahead, the council commissioned Southern Oregon University Research Center to create the Ashland Budget Survey.

The survey is designed to gather feedback about which city services residents value most. Confining the survey to a single page makes it less expensive to print and mail, and also brief enough that respondents will be more likely to fill it out.

“We wanted to make sure every voice was heard,” said Eva Skuratowicz, director of SOURCE, in a phone interview. “It’s hard when people’s choices are limited. Then people are forced to make hard choices.”

Skuratowicz described the survey as 14 boxes, asking citizens to make choices between city programs — the kinds of choices the council will have to make. Each box has a comment section, with more room for comment at the bottom of the page.

Daniel Rubenson, an SOU economics professor, was brought in to help design the survey. Rubenson said the team decided what to include on the survey by seeking comment from City Council members and reviewing past Citizen Budget Committee proposals and discussions.

“We were looking for policy options to include in the survey that would give us information about Ashland city priorities,” Rubenson said.

The survey originally was to be released May 25 or 26. Postcards already had been sent out announcing the coming survey. But City Council held off releasing the survey.

Skuratowicz described being at the printer last week when she received news that the council had voted to delay releasing the survey to the public.

At a special council budget meeting Monday, most of the SOURCE team responsible for the survey were in attendance. Their discussion revolved around differing opinions from members of the council, and a surprise leak of the survey’s initial draft earlier this week.

Skuratowicz said the draft survey was sent May 10 to council members and Mayor Julie Akins, with instructions not to share or distribute the survey. The draft bore a watermark that said, “Draft: do not distribute.”

Monday night’s discussion about the survey included concerns about possible implications of the leak, including whether it could taint the survey. But Skuratowicz expressed optimism that the survey would still be effective.

“Unfortunately, the leak has caused a lot of confusion,” Skuratowicz said, responding to public comment at the Monday meeting.

Susan Hall, who spoke on behalf of herself and her neighbors, said the language used in the survey included scare words.

The leak led some residents to access a website that was intended to accompany the survey, leading the SOURCE team to take the website down.

At the end of Monday night’s discussion, the council voted to release the survey, with Shaun Moran and Gina DuQuenne voting no and Stephen Jensen, Stefani Seffinger, Tonya Graham and Paula Hyatt voting in favor. The release date for the survey was not specified, but is intended to be as soon as possible.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at mrothborne@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.