Saving city jobs will cost

A typical Ashland homeowner would pay an extra $34.43 in property taxes per year to save the jobs of two firefighters and the Community Emergency Response Team Coordinator while also preventing a police records clerk from being cut to half-time.

Ashland City Administrator Martha Bennett has proposed a $80.9 million budget for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. That's down from this fiscal year's adopted budget of $95.2 million.

Combined with staff cuts made in December 2008 to deal with the economic recession, the equivalent of 14.35 full-time employees would be cut if the Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee approves the proposed budget.

Under the proposed budget, property taxes would go up only 6 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, or $12.90 for the owner of a home at Ashland's median assessed value of $225,000. That increase is part of a voter-approved levy to help fund the Ashland Public Library.

Assessed home values are significantly lower than market values because of property tax limitations approved by Oregon voters in the 1990s.

Jobs in the Ashland police and fire departments are among those on the chopping block.

Saving two firefighters' jobs would cost the owner of a median-value home another $21.15 a year. Preserving CERT Coordinator Lucy Edwards' job would cost $9.45 extra each year. Through the popular CERT program, Edwards trains residents to take care of themselves, their families and their community during emergencies, such as natural disasters.

Preventing a police records clerk's job from being cut to half-time would cost $3.83 per year.

Although Bennett has proposed a budget that only includes a property tax increase of 6 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, she recommended that the Budget Committee raise Ashland's property tax to its legal ceiling, which would add on almost 21 cents more per $1,000 in assessed value.

City property taxes for the owner of a home assessed at $225,000 would increase from $994.03 this fiscal year to $1,052.21 — an increase of $58.18.

With the added money, Bennett said her recommendation would be that the city build a minimum reserve of $133,000 and keep the police records clerk at full-time and save the jobs of the two firefighters and the CERT coordinator.

However, Budget Committee member Bill Heimann said the committee needs to look not only at the effect of property tax increases, but at the impact of increasing city fees on residents.

The city raised water fees by 10 percent and sewer fees by 20 percent, effective as of this week.

The combined rate increases will cost a typical family of four in a 1,500-square-foot house with landscaping an average of about $6.60 more each month, city staff estimated.

That amounts to $79.20 each year.

"The impact is real," Bennett agreed, adding later, "We do need to look at the cumulative impact."

Saving the job of a water department worker would require a 1 percent water fee increase, while preserving the job of a sewer department worker would require a 1.6 percent sewer fee increase.

Water and sewer rates will likely go up in the future even if workers aren't spared. Rate increases for 2010 aren't known yet, but could be another 10 percent for water and 40 percent for sewer. That dramatic increase in sewer fees would result if city voters don't renew the city's restaurant food and beverage tax, which is mainly used to subsidize sewer service.

The various job cuts would save the city about $1 million. Most of the proposed budget reduction for the coming fiscal year comes from the city doing less to maintain and improve its infrastructure.

Infrastructure spending, budgeted at $10.34 million this fiscal year, would drop to $5.59 million for the coming fiscal year.

The Budget Committee — which is made up of residents, the Ashland City Council and Mayor John Stromberg — will continue to review the city budget over the next three weeks. All meetings are open to the public and begin at 6 p.m. in the Ashland Civic Center, 1175 E. Main St.

The Budget Committee will likely make decisions about what cuts or additions to make to different city departments after hearing presentations from all the departments.

The schedule of meetings is as follows:

  • Monday, April 27 — Ashland Fiber Network, Electric Department and Conservation Division;
  • Thursday, April 30 — City Recorder, Administration, Human Resources, Legal;
  • Wednesday, May 6 — Police, Fire, Planning and Community Development Block Grants (federal housing grants);
  • Monday, May 11 — Infrastructure projects, Public Works, Airport, Streets, Water, Sewer, Administration, Engineering, Cemetery and Equipment;
  • Wednesday, May 13 — Public Works continued, if needed;
  • Thursday, May 14 — Overall city budget approval and set property tax rate.

The City Council will also hold a public hearing about the budget on June 2 and will give final approval for a budget on June 16. Those meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are in the Ashland Civic Center.

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

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