Plan for 5 or 10% cuts, Ashland city manager tells department heads

Ashland City Hall on a quiet Thursday afternoon in winter. Drew Fleming photo
March 31, 2022

Some spending restrictions kick in April 1; reduction plans due mid-month

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

City department heads are due to submit plans to cut their department’s budget in the next fiscal year to Ashland City Manager Joe Lessard by April 15, and restrictions on nonessential travel and filling vacant positions are effective April 1, Lessard says in a memo sent late Wednesday to department directors, city councilors and Parks & Recreation Commission commissioners. 

Due to the city’s “structural” budget deficit, in which established revenues aren’t enough to cover established expenses, Lessard said spending must be carefully monitored and, for general fund departments, reduced. 

Police and fire departments have been asked to prepare budget plans with 5% cuts, while community development, city administration, city recorder, city attorney, parks, and public works departments are asked for plans for 5% and 10% reductions over the second year of the city’s current biennial budget period, which started July 1, 2021.

“The City of Ashland has an approximately $2 million structural imbalance,” according to the executive summary of the current biennial budget adopted in the summer of 2021 running through June 30, 2023. “This imbalance or gap grows to over $3.5 million by the end of this biennium and triggers a deficit position by (fiscal year) 2024-2025 if the inherent disconnect between revenues and expenditures is not fixed.”

“It’s not a one-time event,” Lessard told Ashland.news in an interview. “It’s ‘structural’ in that you have to look at how your operations are going to work over time, to live within our means.

“We have to adjust to the reality of the deficit,” he added.

Lessard told Ashland.news that the last thing the city would ever want to do is have a reduction in personnel across the board, and in particular for Ashland police or fire departments. 

“We’ll wait and see what the departments are going to propose,” Lessard said. “This plan is just for the second year of the biennium, so it could be that if they have difficulty filling positions that there may be some vacancy savings, that might help. Going forward, really I need to see what the chiefs are going to propose and what their thinking is … The last thing I would want to do is do anything that would jeopardize public safety. The last step of any consideration would be a reduction in force.”

Lessard’s memo announced the following measures, effective on Friday, April 1:

  • All currently vacant positions funded in the General Fund will remain vacant unless Lessard gives written permission to fill them. Any position that becomes vacant in the future will also need written authorization to be filled.
  • All General Fund personnel vacancy savings that have occurred to-date in the current fiscal year (2021-2022) are not available to the departments for other expenditures. Departments are directed to take steps to minimize their expenditures in materials and services for the balance of the current fiscal year, in order to balance the General Fund.
  • All city personnel travel and training is restricted to maintaining current professional certifications or to maintain current operational readiness unless Lessard has given written permission for the requested travel and training. All department-authorized travel and training is to be reported monthly to the Finance Director.
  • Every department director is directed to prepare budget reduction plans for their department’s General Fund expenditures for the second year of the current biennium budget (fiscal year 2022-2023).

“I know you are all aware that the City has a structural deficit that must be addressed,” Lessard said in the email to which the memo is attached. “The attached memo formally marks the beginning of management efforts to affirmatively address the deficit. I know I can count on all of you to help in this effort.”

Lessard said at this point, the plans will likely be given to him to reduce the expenses, not to the city’s budget committee. 

He wants to see what departments recommend, what they identify as potential places to save in the second year of the biennium. Lessard said he doesn’t want to speculate what they might come up with.

“It’s not necessarily that we’re going to be changing the budget, it means we have to align our expenses with the actual revenue that the city’s receiving,” Lessard said. “And if we come back for a supplemental budget change … that’s when we would most likely have to ask the council to reconvene the citizen’s budget committee.

“In this case, we have to look to what we can do next year to reduce the deficit and make sure that we don’t exceed our resources,” he added. “We have a deficit so we know something has to happen.”

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

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

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