Catching a compromise

Mayor John Stromberg and Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioner Stefani Seffinger said they will offer a proposal to deal with a parks budget controversy later this week, but they were tight-lipped about what that proposal might be during a Monday night joint meeting of the Parks Commission and Ashland City Council.

Stromberg and Seffinger said they had just begun contemplating a proposal on Monday and would have it ready later this week.

The proposal must be fleshed out in time to be included in a packet of online documents councilors will receive this Thursday to prepare themselves for their upcoming regular meeting on Tuesday next week.

Councilors will discuss Stromberg and Seffinger's proposal at that Tuesday meeting.

Historically, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department had it's own taxing authority, but that was taken away when Oregon voters approved property tax changes in the late 1990s that erased many taxing authorities.

For years after, in an unwritten gentleman's agreement, the city of Ashland had been giving half of property tax revenues to the parks department to honor the parks department's historically semi-independent status.

That practice has been fraying in recent years, with some Ashland Citizens Budget Committee members and others saying the parks department budget must be weighed against other city priorities.

In late 2012, Stromberg and City Administrator Dave Kanner developed a working paper for dealing with parks funding issues that would have involved transferring $650,000 to $1.8 million in parks department leftover funds to the city's general fund.

Parks Commissioners had bristled at the proposed change.

On Monday, the Parks Commission and City Council met to try and begin ironing out issues.

Commissioners and councilors generally agreed that they favored forming an ad hoc committee — which at the least would include a few councilors and commissioners — to look at long-term sustainable funding options for the parks system.

That committee would take public input on the issue.

Stromberg and Seffinger said the interim idea they are developing would address budgeting issues for this year.

As city administrator, Kanner must develop a proposed budget in the next few weeks, which will then be scrutinized and possibly changed by the Budget Committee and City Council during the annual budgeting process.

Seffinger said the Monday night meeting of councilors and parks commissioners was a way to bring the two independently elected bodies together to build trust.

"We all care about our city and we want to do the best thing for the whole city," Seffinger said.

Parks Commissioner Rick Landt said the parks system will lose its semi-independent status if a solution is not brokered that creates a dedicated and dependable funding source for parks.

"When the public becomes aware of what's going on here, it has the potential to become really divisive," Landt said. "I think we want to avoid that."

City Attorney David Lohman cautioned that whatever solution is formulated can only be short-term and cannot interfere with the decision-making powers of future parks commissions, city councils and budget committees.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199

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