Budget Committee asks for flat city spending

The Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee is asking City Administrator Martha Bennett to prepare a flat proposed budget for the coming fiscal year, but to also describe what cuts might be required to meet that goal.

Bennett and City Finance Director Lee Tuneberg will craft the proposed budget after getting those instructions from the Budget Committee on Thursday night.

The proposed budget will then go back before Budget Committee members, who will spend weeks hammering out the final budget before the next fiscal year starts on July 1. They will decide whether to adopt, raise or lower Bennett's proposed budget.

The Budget Committee is made up of residents, the Ashland City Council and Mayor John Stromberg.

In February 2009, the Budget Committee also asked Bennett to prepare a proposed budget with flat spending. She returned with a proposed budget of $81 million and a long list of cuts needed to hit that mark.

The budget eventually adopted by Budget Committee and City Council members was $82.64 million and still included some staff and service cuts.

For the coming fiscal year, the Budget Committee decided that other city departments should continue to help shoulder the debt burden for the Ashland Fiber Network, which sank $15.5 million into debt several years ago because of higher-than-expected costs and stiff competition from Charter Communications.

For this fiscal year, AFN was tasked with paying $356,000 toward a $1.43 million debt payment. Other departments — including the Electric Department, Ashland Fire & Rescue and the Ashland Police Department — had to pay $700,000.

The city also used $375,378 from an unrelated court settlement to help pay the debt.

There will be no court settlement money to help with next fiscal year's AFN debt payment, Bennett said.

However, AFN has a higher-than-anticipated ending fund balance that will be tapped. Part of that is due to salary savings from the city going without an information technology director for more than a year, Bennett said.

The information technology director heads AFN and manages the city's internal technology systems. The salary range for the job was listed at $90,591 to $101,824 this fiscal year.

Long-time AFN employee Michael Ainsworth served as interim information technology director after the former director took a job in eastern Oregon in October 2008.

Newly hired Information Technology Director Robert Lloyd, who hails from Colorado, is scheduled to start working in Ashland in March. Ainsworth did not apply for the position.

The Budget Committee has also asked Bennett to prepare a proposed budget that doesn't eat into the city's reserve funds — some of which have been depleted below amounts deemed by city officials to be fiscally prudent.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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