ashland.news
July 18, 2024

County: Enough petition signatures submitted to put Ashland water plant financing on the November ballot

An illustration shows what the main structure at the planned new Ashland water treatment plant would look like.
July 3, 2024

City Council had authorized issuance of up to $75M in revenue bonds to finance new treatment plant

By Morgan Rothborne, Ashland.news

Proponents of a movement calling for public engagement and new ideas for how to pay for the city of Ashland’s proposed new water treatment plant successfully gathered enough signatures to place the item on the November ballot. 

The petition garnered a total of 977 accepted signatures, well above the 799 required for a citizen’s petition to become a ballot measure, said Chris Walker, county clerk for Jackson County.

Some petitioner signatures were discarded for reasons such as duplicate signatures, residing outside the city limits or not being registered to vote at the time of signing the petition, she said. 

The city is responsible for the measure, but it will be included by the county along with other items on the November ballot. The city could have called for a special election for the item in August, but it would have cost around $50,000. Folding the measure into an existing election incurs no cost for the city, Walker said.  

Proposed ballot measure

A “Yes” vote supports Resolution 2024-05, endorsing the issuance of revenue bonds, such as through the EPA, as the means to fund plant construction.
   
A “No” vote opposes the resolution, requiring the City Council to consider alternative methods to finance plant construction.

Source: City of Ashland

Acting City Recorder Alissa Kolodzinski confirmed the city has chosen to put the measure up for a vote in the November election in a Tuesday email. The city of Ashland’s legal team is drafting the ballot language now and the public can expect to see it posted soon, she said. 

The petition was submitted to the city of Ashland on May 9. The city of Ashland sent the signatures to the county clerk’s office for verification May 14 and received verification of sufficient signatures June 6, she said. 

Dean Silver, one of the architects of the petition, said that in gathering signatures he found the public was largely ignorant about the treatment plant project and, once informed, were enthusiastic to sign the petition. 

“I don’t think this was an appropriate decision for council to make. I think the community could decide. … Unless the best minds talk about it, we’re just shootin’ in the breeze,” he said. 

Silver said he hopes to create a website where some alternative ideas of his own could be hosted and other Ashland residents could engage or post their own ideas. He — and those who supported the ballot measure — hope to see a broader conversation about the best way to approach the city’s water treatment plant. 

The latest estimate of the cost for the project lists $70 million as the highest possible cost with the lowest estimate at $55 million, according to the March 5, 2024 council resolution authorizing the bonds to pay off federal loans required to pay to build a new water treatment plant in a new location. An information sheet created by the city lists $75 million as the estimated budget for the project, including additional cost for a solar array. 

With such high costs for a project that will determine the way Ashland’s water is handled for decades to come, the city “can’t afford to make a mistake,” Silver said. 

More information on the water treatment plant and proposed ballot language is available on the city of Ashland’s website. 

Email Ashland.news reporter Morgan Rothborne at morganr@ashland.news.

Related stories:

Petition campaign for Ashland $75-million water bond gets extension (May 23, 2024)

Council Corner: Tapping into the city’s master plan for water (May 6, 2024)

Council Corner: Residential water rates in Ashland (April 30, 2024)

Water treatment plant plans approved by Planning Commission (April 27, 2023)

Planning Commission to review new water treatment plant plans at special meeting Tuesday (April 24, 2023)

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Bert Etling

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

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