Former Ashland Mayor Cathy Shaw submitted information for the League of Women Voters voting guide that overstates how much park land was bought with city meals tax money.
Language submitted by Shaw on behalf of a group of meals tax supporters states, "$4.9 million purchased 360 acres of new parkland (a 45 percent increase) — including 15 new parks, such as Siskiyou Mountain Park, the Railroad Park, and North Mountain Park."
However, 270-acre Siskiyou Mountain Park was acquired from a lumber company in the early 1990s through a mix of sources, including a trade of trees logged off city-owned land in the Ashland Watershed, $2,076 in cash and $102,924 of debt financing, according to a variety of sources.
Shaw was mayor of Ashland at the time and still has detailed memories of the tree swap.
She said Superior Logging was going to log the land that later became Siskiyou Mountain Park, prompting concerns among residents and city officials that part of the forested backdrop to Ashland would be clear-cut.
As part of a deal with the city, Superior Logging agreed to cut fewer logs off the Siskiyou Mountain Park land than it had planned. The company got to have trees off city land in the watershed, according to the recollections of Shaw, former Ashland Forest Lands Commissioner Bill Robertson and current Ashland Forestry Consultant Marty Main. Main was not working for the city at the time but was involved with residents who had identified the property as important forest land.
Main and Robertson said fundraisers by residents may also have been used to help with the land acquisition, but they were not sure of exact details.
Ashland Finance Director Lee Tuneberg said he doesn't have records of any tree trading done to help acquire the Siskiyou Mountain Park land, but a trade might not show up in financial records.
In trying to reconstruct the transaction, Tuneberg — who didn't work for the city at the time of the acquisition — said he has only sketchy details and people's memories to go on.
There are records of the city paying $2,076 in cash and assuming a debt of $102,924 for Siskiyou Mountain Park. With interest, the estimated total cost was $149,859, according to the Ashland Finance Department.
Tuneberg said that amount doesn't seem like nearly enough to pay for the 270 acres of Siskiyou Mountain Park, so it makes sense that something else was given for the land.
"This is not Florida swamp land or Dust Bowl land," he said.
Parks Superintendent Steve Gies, who was working for the city at the time, said his memory is that logging occurred to reduce the cost of the land to the city.
When asked by the Daily Tidings if her League of Women Voters voting guide submission overstated the effects of the meals tax on the acquisition of park land, Shaw said, "I got all of that from the city."
City officials compiled information for a May public meals tax forum. The city language states that 360 acres were purchased "in part" with the city's 5 percent prepared food and beverage tax.
The language from the city reads, "Ashland parks/open space total 785 acres. Of the total park acreage, more than 360 acres (45%) were purchased in part with the F&B tax since 1994 including Railroad Park; North Mountain Park, Siskiyou Park and others."
Asked if she should have used the phrase "in part" in her submission, Shaw said that one could argue that, without the meals tax funding, the city wouldn't have all 360 acres it acquired.
"We wouldn't have much of the property we have without the meals tax. Did we acquire property in other ways? Yes. I would never deny it. I don't understand why it's important. One percent for open space was spent on open space. That's what matters," Shaw said.
One percent of the 5 percent meals tax funds park land and open space purchases, while 4 percent goes to pay debt for past upgrades to the Ashland sewage treatment plant.
If the tax is not renewed by voters, city officials estimate there will be less than $100,000 left from tax revenues for park land purchases when the tax sunsets in December 2010. A renewal of the tax would expand its use to developing parks and major parks projects, not just park land purchases.
City officials estimate sewage bills will go up by 60 percent without a renewal.
Voters are being asked to renew the tax until 2030. It was adopted in 1993.
Pam Vavra, director of voter services for the local League of Women Voters, said the league doesn't certify that the information in its voting guide is accurate. The League is distributing the guides at Ashland Food Cooperative and during a meals tax forum that starts at 1 p.m. on Saturday in the Stevenson Union building at Southern Oregon University.
Official voting guides that come from the government also don't certify the accuracy of arguments submitted by proponents and opponents, Vavra noted.
The Jackson County Voters' Pamphlet contains four arguments against the meals tax's renewal and no arguments in favor of the renewal.
Current Mayor John Stromberg, current Ashland City Councilor Greg Lemhouse, former City Councilor Alex Amarotico, current Parks Commissioner Mike Gardiner, former Ashland School Board member Chuck Keil, historic preservation consultant George Kramer and current Ashland Planning Commissioner Pam Marsh signed on to Shaw's submission to the League of Women Voters voting guide.
None of the current and former elected city and parks officials were in office at the time of the Siskiyou Mountain Park land acquisition.
In an e-mail to the Daily Tidings, Stromberg — who came to Ashland in 2000 and took office as mayor this year — said, "I spoke with Cathy and she and I agree that the information our group gave for the LWV piece did not have the words 'in part' that you noted below. Thanks for pointing out how this could give the impression that meals tax proceeds paid for all of Siskiyou Mountain Park. This wasn't our intention. What our statement is trying to convey is that all the meals tax proceeds that have been allocated for open space have been spent on open space. I hope that clarifies the situation. Cathy and I appreciate your bringing this to our attention."
Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or email@example.com.