Public safety levy may be put to voters

Mayor John Stromberg will appoint a task force to advise the Ashland City Council on whether to put a bond levy on the ballot to fund police and fire department facilities.

The levy could go on the November 2010 ballot.

A City Council majority voted on Tuesday in favor of forming the task force.

The council had previously set a goal to replace the aging Fire Station No. 2 on Ashland Street.

The task force will look at whether the bond should pay for a fire station replacement, an expansion of the police department, police and fire training facilities and a fire truck with a ladder that could be used on large buildings.

If all items were on the bond, the tab would be about $6.5 million, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

The estimated cost for just the fire station is $3.5 million, she said.

In November 2006, city voters rejected a bond that would have paid for a new $5 million fire station.

City officials applied for a federal economic stimulus grant to pay for the replacement, but found out earlier this year they did not win the grant.

Bennett said Fire Station No. 2 is made of hollow concrete blocks and might not survive a major earthquake.

In the event of a major quake, she said, "The very guys you are going to want to go on a call are going to be inside the fire station — the ex-fire station."

Bennett said the city may have to discontinue use of Fire Station No. 2 if it cannot be replaced.

The larger and newer Fire Station No. 1 is located downtown near the Ashland Public Library.

In 1999, voters approved a $4 million bond to replace and expand that fire station. City officials had decided back then not to place a bond on the ballot to reconstruct both fire stations because of the cost of tackling the two projects at once.

The nearest fire engine ladder truck is in Medford and would take 20 to 30 minutes to drive to Ashland to help on a fire in a large building, city officials said.

Councilor Eric Navickas said it would be good to have a task force go through a public process and look at public safety needs. He said the task force might narrow down the list.

Navickas and Councilors Greg Lemhouse, Carol Voisin and Kate Jackson voted in favor of the mayor appointing the task force.

Councilors David Chapman and Russ Silbiger voted against the move.

In a memo to councilors, city staff suggested that the task force include one councilor, two at-large citizens, two people knowledgeable about city facilities, two people familiar with bond measures, two citizens interested in police services and two citizens who are interested in the fire department — such as Community Emergency Response Team members.

"Everyone on this list seems to be a cheerleader for 'Let's make this happen,'" Chapman said.

Silbiger said the city should focus on replacing Fire Station No. 2, and not put together a huge, expensive bond package that residents cannot afford.

The bond levy would be paid through property taxes.

Lemhouse suggested that one of the two at-large citizens on the task force should come from the Ashland Citizens Budget Committee.

The budget committee is made up of residents, the mayor and councilors. As a group, resident members of the budget committee have historically been more fiscally conservative than the City Council.

During a November 2008 study session, the City Council directed city staff to delay discussions about funding public safety needs until after the issue of renewing the city's 5 percent sales tax on prepared food and drinks was resolved.

On Nov. 3 of this year, a majority of voters approved the renewal of the sales tax.

Opponents of the meals tax had questioned why the meals tax renewal was rushed onto the November 2009 ballot.

The tax renewal could have been on the November 2010 ballot because the tax was not set to expire until December 2010.

Now, if a public safety bond levy is put on the November 2010 ballot, it will not have to be on the same ballot as the meals tax renewal.

It's common practice for the city of Ashland to avoid putting funding measures on the ballot when they would compete against other funding measures, such as school levies.

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

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