Mayor's plan gets go-ahead

The Ashland City Council Tuesday found a way to fund grants for sustainability projects without taking away city grant money from the Ashland Chamber of Commerce or the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Mayor John Stromberg proposed in January that the City Council set aside $12,500 to fund sustainability projects that could range from renewable energy generation to local food production to promotion of alternative transportation.

Council members divided 3-3 on whether to support Stromberg's plan — leading the mayor to cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of a motion to provide a minimum of $12,500 for sustainability projects.

The money will come from the city's hotel tax.

The lion's share of hotel tax revenues, which are projected at $1.72 million this fiscal year, traditionally has been set aside by the council for the city's general fund, the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Smaller groups, such as the Ashland Independent Film Festival, vie against each other for grants from a pool of hotel tax money in a competitive process before the Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee.

In 2009, the City Council had set aside $14,183 in hotel tax revenue that was meant to build up in following years to fund unspecified city projects to promote tourism.

The council voted to empty that pot and give another $5,000 to the chamber. The remaining $9,183 will boost the amount available for smaller organizations to a projected total of $116,262.

For the coming fiscal year, the chamber will receive a projected total of $280,000 in hotel tax money to fund its Visitor and Convention Bureau.

In the past, groups competing for hotel tax revenue showed how their work contributed to economic and cultural development. Now, sustainability promotion will be another criteria for the Citizens' Budget Committee to consider when members decide which organizations to fund. The budgeting process for the coming fiscal year, which starts on July 1, begins in early spring.

Some groups that have won economic and cultural development grants from the hotel tax in the past already have a strong sustainability component to their work. Thrive, which promotes local businesses and locally grown food, won an $18,000 grant for this fiscal year.

An overflowing crowd of Chamber of Commerce supporters and those who favor sustainability groups came to the Tuesday council meeting.

Councilman Eric Navickas proposed the plan that gave more money to the chamber while also increasing the amount available for smaller groups.

He said both the chamber and sustainability groups favor environmental and economic sustainability.

"It's become a false dichotomy between the chamber community and those looking to support sustainability," Navickas said.

He added later, "It really works to bring these two communities together to work together."

In an interview following the council's vote to support Navickas' proposal, chamber Executive Director Sandra Slattery said she appreciated his words.

"It was nice to hear him say that while some people don't think we do sustainability projects, indeed we do. It encourages more understanding," she said.

Among other projects, the chamber put together a panel discussion in October 2009 on green strategies. Business and nonprofit group representatives shared ideas, she said.

Slattery said membership in the chamber costs $100 a year for nonprofit groups, and the chamber can provide them with many benefits — including business planning and networking and a Rapid Response Team of business members who can help organizations that want to start up or grow in Ashland.

Slattery said many people who favor sustainability have a passion for growing local food or innovating, for example, but they may need help in developing their business and financial skills in order to thrive.

"True sustainability is when you can take that passion and turn it into something real," she said.

Council members Navickas, Carol Voisin and Russ Silbiger voted with the mayor to provide at least $12,500 for sustainability projects. Council members Greg Lemhouse, David Chapman and Kate Jackson voted against the change.

Lemhouse said more public discussion was needed.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or

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