ashland.news
April 14, 2024

Ashland Budget Committee sends $387M plan to council

The Ashland Budget Committee deliberates at its meeting Thursday, May 25. Screen capture from RVTV video
May 31, 2023

Only recommended cut would transfer municipal court to county, saving $1M; two-year budget up for City Council approval June 20

By Damian Mann for Ashland.news

The Ashland Citizens’ Budget Committee last week recommended a two-year, $387.3 million Ashland budget to the City Council, but several attempts to cut expenses failed to gain traction.

The budget, which goes to the City Council for approval on June 20, would increase the number of police officers and fire and rescue personnel, including more emergency medical technicians.

In general, the city has been running with lower staff levels over the past few years, and the police department has seen several veteran officers leaving during that time.

Of the 14 members of the committee, Councilor Gina DuQuenne, David Runkle and Leda Shapiro voted against the budget.

Under the new budget, capital projects, including the $65 million for a new water treatment plant, almost doubled to $129 million.

Shapiro said, “I do not approve this budget.”

She said she was disappointed that discussions over budget cuts hadn’t happened weeks ago.

Shapiro said she didn’t see much in the budget that would address the affordable housing shortage in Ashland.

Runkle proposed the most cost-cutting motions, but his motions died after other members declined to cut police, fire and the Ashland Fiber Network.

He did succeed in getting support for one of his motions, the only motion that succeeded in passing.

“I move to abolish the Ashland Municipal Court and transfer it to Jackson County,” Runkle said. The cost to run the court is $1 million.

Shapiro said, “Of all the amendments for cost cutting, this one makes the most sense to me.”

Councilor Paula Hyatt, a committee member, said it would be prudent to have the council look at transferring court functions to the Jackson County Justice Court.

“It’s important sometimes to rethink things,” she said.

But questions remain about the cost to the city to have the county perform those functions.

Mayor Tonya Graham, a board member, said the council has significant priorities ahead of it such as housing and the environment and worried about adding another topic onto the list.

“We don’t want to preempt other priorities,” she said.

Having a local court might work better with the local police department and might be more appropriate for local residents, she said.

The motion to study the closure of the court passed on an 8-6 vote.

Gina DuQuenne, a committee member, failed to get support for closing the Oak Knoll Golf Course and using the land for affordable housing.

The golf course budget was just over $1 million, but shutting down the nine-hole course would mean getting rid of three full-time employees and other temporary employees.

Graham said the question of closing the golf course would be more appropriate at the council level.

“I see this first and foremost as outside the bounds of this body,” she said.

The Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission is looking at contracting with an outside firm to run the golf course in an effort to make it more cost effective.

If the city decided to close the golf course, Graham said it would have to take place by July 1 and would prove disruptive for the city and local residents to deal with it on such short notice.

“There is no reason to move into that level of disruption,” Graham said.

Runkle’s proposal to hold off on any capital expenditures for Ashland Fiber Network also met stiff opposition.

Councilor Dylan Bloom, a committee member, said the council had previously discussed a $1.2 million upgrade to make the system competitive.

“We told AFN to go forward and conquer big telecom,” he said.

Councilor Bob Kaplan, a committee member, said the council already approved a pilot program for AFN.

The two-year pilot project would extend fiber optic lines to some apartment complexes in the city, replacing the coaxial cables that currently provide internet. Fiber provides a much quicker connection.

Ashland resident Susan Hall, during the public comment period, told the budget committee that cost-cutting was necessary and expenses need to be reduced.

“There has been little action on this from the City Council or the staff,” she said.

Reach freelance writer Damian Mann at dmannnews@gmail.com.

Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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