Budget would preserve firefighters, CERT head

The Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee has approved a city government budget that preserves the jobs of two firefighter/paramedics and the Community Emergency Response Team coordinator, and also keeps a full-time police records clerk from being cut to part-time.

Property taxes would go up by 11.8 cents per $1,000 in assessed property value to save those jobs that were on the chopping block.

The city is dealing with a long-term problem of expenses exceeding revenues — a situation worsened by the national economic recession.

The owner of a home assessed at $225,000 would pay another $26.55 per year in property taxes to cover the costs of those jobs. Assessed values are significantly below market values because of property tax limitations approved by state voters.

For several weeks, participants in the popular CERT program have pleaded with Budget Committee members not to cut the job of Lucy Edwards, who coordinates the program that teaches residents how to deal with disasters.

Eliminating two firefighter/paramedic jobs would have saved $175,000 in salaries and benefits, but would have cost $70,000 in additional overtime costs.

Property taxes would also rise by 6 cents per $1,000 in assessed value — or $13.50 more per year for the owner of a typical home — to supplement hours and services at the Ashland Public Library. Ashland voters previously approved a levy to augment limited Jackson County funding for the library.

The Citizens' Budget Committee decided not to save the job of a person in the water department and a person in the sewer department. Preserving those jobs would have meant a 1 percent increase in water bills and a 1.6 percent increase in sewer bills.

Those increases would have come on top of the Ashland City Council's decision that went into effect in April to raise water rates by 10 percent and sewer rates by 20 percent.

A parks maintenance worker's job would be eliminated as well, and a water department worker who is retiring in December would not be replaced.

The Budget Committee approved setting aside $250,000 to start building a reserve fund for the city.

The $82.62 million budget that the committee approved Wednesday night will go into effect at the beginning of the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1, if it wins final approval from the City Council.

The council will hold a public hearing on the budget during a meeting that starts at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 2, in the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St.

The City Council can reduce spending by any amount, but can only increase spending by 10 percent per category. The council can only increase the property tax rate approved by the Budget Committee by going through an elaborate process, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

The city government eliminated several jobs in December 2008 to deal with a shortfall in revenues caused by the faltering economy.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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