Council OKs $10.7 million for projects

The Ashland City Council unanimously approved preliminary plans for nearly $10.7 million in infrastructure projects, but held back on approving new vehicles for the police department and improvements for police and fire stations.

In a Tuesday night discussion about city infrastructure and equipment needs, Councilor David Chapman said he wanted the Ashland Police Department to investigate alternatives to Crown Victorias, which are the cars usually used by police departments.

Chapman said the cars get only 12 miles per gallon of gas.

Fellow councilors agreed with Chapman. They also delayed approving plans to buy four hybrid sport utility vehicles until city staff come back with information on how quickly the hybrids will pay off the difference between themselves and regular SUVs through improved gas mileage. Each hybrid costs $6,000 more than a regular SUV.

The council will postpone any decisions about improving the police station on East Main Street and Ashland Fire Rescue Station No. 2 on Ashland Street until a study of city building needs is complete.

The infrastructure and equipment projects in the fiscal year 2008-2009 Capital Improvements Plan must still make it through the regular budgeting process, City Administrator Martha Bennett explained.

The plan includes maintenance and improvements for streets and storm drains, as well as water, sewer, electric and Ashland Fiber Network systems.

The council also gave approval for tentative plans for infrastructure projects stretching from 2010 to 2014.

If all the projects were completed, rates on utility bills would increase by about 1.25 percent each year through 2014, Ashland Administrative Services and Finance Director Lee Tuneberg said.

Ashland Citizen Budget Committee Chair Lynn Thompson said she would like to see more information about which projects are essential and which are less essential in case the city must make budget cuts.

Bennett said in devising the 2008-2009 Capital Improvement Plan and the long-term plan, city staff members do keep in mind budget restraints and prioritize projects that will be good investments for maintaining infrastructure.

Councilor Alice Hardesty eventually voted for the plan. But she said she felt uncomfortable approving project plans through 2014 without prioritization as Thompson suggested.

Councilor Cate Hartzell said making long-term plans allows the city to predict impacts on annual budgets.

The council can always cancel or delay projects before they win final approval, she noted.

"It's not putting anything in cement that couldn't be undone in a future budget process," Hartzell said.

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