Bonding Together

Some years ago the voters of Ashland were presented with a decision to fund a new fire engine, as we did not possess one that could easily climb upper Morton Street, put in by a former mayor as access to many, very large, new homes.

We were told that the only solution would be to float a bond and purchase a new fire engine, a small detail that sat light years beyond the planning process and seemingly outside the reference template of city hall.

Many frightening scenarios were trotted out — watershed fires reaping havoc and knocking out our water supply should one of these new houses ignite and spark the watershed into a howling blow of the devil's breath. We were told that if such a fire got a foothold, the whole town would be at risk.

The city said that they had no contingency funds for the new engine, and the whole matter was put to the voters while dread and fear stuck to our minds at the myriad horrific possibilities. I looked askance at the whole proposition, as fire engines are not sold off of lots, draped with balloons. Rather, they are custom ordered and require a deposit and many months of lead time to build and deliver.

The whole matter was put on the ballot and "¦ if you can believe it, was rejected by the voters, sending a very clear message to the city that former mayors do not get new equipment designated for their particular project. A day or so after the voters had supposedly spoken, the city announced that they had "found" $350,000 for the new engine. It did not take long for many of us to figure out that the money was there all along and the will of the people meant nothing at all. The engine showed up on the soon side and it was then clear that it had been on order for months and the bond was disingenuous.

All this comes to mind as I reflect on the five meetings I attended, watching and taking notes on the Mayor's Downtown Task Force, which formally adjourned a year and a half ago. It was another sweet deal. The city ran most of the meetings and the conclusions were kept between our appointed "chair" and the city attorney, who made it abundantly clear that his bosses were the city administrator and the council, not the residents of Ashland. I suppose that the residents were to pony up and pay the cost of their own attorney, with the city using our money to help enforce vague and often indefinable fines against the business community.

I pulled aside a senior community development staffer and was told, bluntly, "This is already decided. Wiley's World mascot Alfredo, the Black Sheep lion, the bear at the Chocolate Factory and the giraffe at Bug-a-Boo are going away, this on order from on high. You are just along for the ride and wasting your time."

How refreshing to hear the truth, if only occasionally.

The council is warm to the idea of taxing and fining industrial buildings for new inspections and, should that idea fall flat, stands ready to put a public safety bond levy on the ballot, paid for with property taxes, in an amount of over $6 million.

Some say that if a department has a financial black hole in it, then we should look hard at the reasons for holding onto it. Some question such profligate spending on capital expenditures when we have so many desperately in need among us. Others watch in amazement as the chronically ill have nowhere to turn, save the food kitchens and the nearest clump of bushes to ward off the frost.

I would like to see us bond together, then see how necessary levies are to compensate for the newest city vehicle fleet on the West Coast. was last seen handing out Meals Ready to Eat (MRES) on the Plaza, wondering where in the world is the real war on America.

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