Veto of fee increase on Lithia Artisans Market not supported by the facts
By Rick Landt
It is disappointing when well-reasoned, well-communicated decisions are overturned with shoot-from-the-hip, reactionary ones. The following outlines how, from my perspective, an Ashland City Council vote on March 15 met the above description.
The Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission (APRC) Board of Commissioners, a body elected by the same Ashland citizens who elected the City Council, recently unanimously voted to increase fees by 7% for artisans and restaurants renting space on Calle Guanajuato. The majority of city councilors, as the governing body of Oregon’s Local Budget Law, denied the fee increase instead of supporting and trusting the judgement of elected APRC commissioners.
Those councilors (excepting Tonya Graham and Paula Hyatt, in the minority, who voted to confirm the increase, and Steven Jensen, who was absent) substituted their opinions for the judgment of APRC commissioners.
There were a few facts that these councilors seemed to have missed. Namely, 1) the manager of the Lithia Artisans Market publicly supported the increase; 2) all renters had been notified multiple times in writing of the proposed increases and not one renter voiced an objection to the increase; 3) in an effort to support renters during the pandemic, APRC waived all fees during the 2020 season and reduced the 2021 fees to less than half; 4) rent charged for the Calle spaces are less than rents for indoor spaces and are only charged for the months of use, not year-round; and 5) this proposed increase, equal to this year’s inflation rate, is the first proposed rate hike since 2017.
Councilors had the opportunity to show their support for restaurants during this pandemic by reducing or waiving fees charged for downtown sidewalk seating, which is under their direct control. They did not shave a penny off of those fees. Yet they were willing, irrespective of the information available, to negate the decision of APRC Commissioners.
Rather than second-guessing APRC Commissioner decisions, I hope that in the future the City Council would focus on the many tasks that need attention in their lane, and realize that APRC has and will continue to manage park and recreation-related decisions in a fair manner that well serves our community and citizens.
Rick Landt is chair of Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission Board of Commissioners but the views expressed here are his alone. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.