Accolades for the budget committee

Fourteen people divided in many different ways, representing a town divided along infinitely more, found a way to craft an efficient city budget that should earn quick approval.

If this Ashland City Council has ever collectively earned a standing ovation, this is it.

Seven members of the community along with all six city councilors and the mayor formed the citizens' budget committee. For the past several weeks they endured countless meetings, poured over pages of documents that make "War And Peace" look like a beach read, and most importantly found a way to save the city millions of dollars.

This committee needed to surmount a couple of big obstacles to be successful. For starters, they had to stop believing the silly notion that Ashland is Affluent-ville stocked with people who, damn the costs, will pay for whatever socially "important" plan the city fathers and mothers deem worthy.

This is no small obstacle to be sure. But Ashland is aging and even wealthy retirees balk at increasing taxes, rising fixed costs and runaway spending. Folks don't get wealthy, usually, by being frivolous, so they don't look kindly at politicians who are. Moreover, nearly one-third of Ashland's residents earn below the federal poverty line and are in no position to see their taxes and city fees rise.

These people fully expect that our so-called "People's Republic of Ashland" will show necessary fiscal restraint.

A second obstacle is the political water we drink, which makes roughly 35 percent of everyone in this town passionately, angrily, incoherently opposed to 35 percent of the other people in this town, with the remaining 30 percent so appalled by the divide as to be rendered impotent.

Nothing gets to the heart of division like money and how to spend or save it.

Rather than being divided, these 14 folks, with the direction of the city administrator and the city finance manager, quickly resolved that the theme of the year was cutting the budget and showing restraint. The result speaks for itself in nearly $9 million in cuts while still providing a potential solution to re-opening Ashland library.

A motivated self-appointed group of three residents &

John Stromberg, Jim Moore and Randall Hopkins &

played a critical role early on when they muscled out an important foundation for this budget accord. This group produced important work that took the city's portrait of a budget on the edge and made it understandable to both the common resident and the city council itself. They earned the council's vote of approval to show more restraint this budget season and to communicate the budget in ways that people, not just accountants, can understand. Before the budget was on anyone's radar, these three made fiscal responsibility the central theme.

The bottom line is the city, while still very troubled, is much improved, earning plenty of praise to go around. Thank goodness this collective group of city staff, councilors and volunteers earned it, and in so doing saved the city just shy of $10 million.

And that is no small accomplishment.

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