July 21, 2024

$325K Japanese Garden cost overrun leaves commissioners juggling budget cuts

The redesigned Ashland Japanese Garden on opening day in October 2022. photo by Holly Dillemuth
September 15, 2023

Supply chain issues, price hikes, miscommunications, slow billing blamed for blown garden budget

By Damian Mann for

The Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission confronted thorny budget issues over various capital improvement projects, including a $325,000 cost overrun of the recently renovated Japanese Garden in Lithia Park, at a special meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 6, at which commissioners selected Stefani Seffinger as their choice to fill a vacant seat left by the resignation of Commissioner Leslie Eldrige in order to assume the role of interim parks director.

Selecting a nominee commissioner was relatively easy compared to deciding on which capital improvement project budgets to reduce.

Some of the issues forcing the possible reductions include the Japanese Garden cost increase along with the purchase of three properties totaling more than 40 acres along the urban interface for almost $800,000.

“We had a combination of strategic properties,” Eldridge said. “We’ve got to grab these while we can.”

The properties will not only enhance the recreational opportunities in the city but will allow greater fuels reduction management to reduce wildfire risk.

Earlier City Council action led to the purchase of the properties, which will enhance Ashland’s extensive trail system.

The Japanese Garden price hike was mostly driven up because the expected $1.3 million project was designed pre-pandemic and, in the interim, the cost of materials and shipping had increased significantly.

For instance, the shipping of lanterns from Japan cost $25,000 more than expected

Some unexpectedly late invoices were also received from the designer of the gardens.

Communication issues led designers to think they had more money than they actually had, Eldridge said.

Over the long term, the parks department hopes to attract someone who could operate a tea house within the gardens, she said.

Commissioners reviewed possible reductions to the capital improvement project list, such as taking $100,000 out of the park system master plan, $150,000 out of Oak Knoll Golf Course improvements, $100,000 out of facilities projects, $100,000 reduction of a basketball court and $276,180 for Ashland trails.

“We have some tough decisions to make,” said Eldridge.

Commissioners said they needed more time to analyze suggested budget reductions in the capital improvement project list before taking any action.

Ashland parks has a long list of projects that it puts in its biennial budget that may or may not get completed because of the uncertainty of receiving grants, donations or other sources of income. The amount of money set aside in the list is often used to provide a local match to help attract federal or state grants.

Parks expects to receive $6 million from the Food and Beverage tax over the current biennium that is specifically set aside for capital projects.

Another project in the capital improvement project list is the long-awaited Kestrel Park pedestrian bridge over Bear Creek at Nevada Street. The amount set aside to help build the bridge is $700,000, the bulk of which came from an Oregon Department of Transportation grant.

Another project on the list is the 5.52-acre East Main Street park.

One of the bigger projects is replacing the Daniel Meyer Memorial Pool. Parks has $2 million set aside as a portion of the cost of replacement, though one suggestion discussed briefly by commissioners was reducing that amount to $1.5 million.

Other commissioners voice support for both the pool and the park.

Commissioner Rick Landt said that parks staff didn’t recommend cutting the amounts for the park or the pool.

“Once we start taking money out, it shows a decreased commitment,” he said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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