Senior Program spared in city budget cuts

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department could be spared cuts that would have included scaling back the Senior Program and halting the department's financial support for policing.

Earlier this month, the Ashland Citizens Budget Committee, made up of the Ashland City Council and residents, had asked the parks department to come up with ways to trim up to 5 percent from its coming fiscal year budget.

Parks officials came back to the budget committee Thursday night with a prioritized list of cuts.

But the budget committee voted unanimously to tentatively trim only $93,000 from the list of $415,200 worth of cuts.

The committee meets again to give its final approval for the overall city budget at 6 p.m. on Monday in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E.

Main St. Deliberations will continue if necessary at 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

To cut $93,000, the parks department will shift some spending out of the regular parks budget and onto the Youth Activities Levy. The parks department has a contract with the Ashland School District to maintain school grounds, and the shift allows the levy to fund some of those costs.

Budget committee members commended parks officials for limiting spending to $2.09 per $1,000 in assessed property value for several years, despite past projections that taxes would have to be raised.

The parks department also funds police patrols in parks and downtown Ashland. It took on management of the city's Senior Program that serves elderly residents &

even though the city did not give the parks department money for that program, city officials said.

"We shifted a program to them without funding. It was an unfunded mandate," Mayor John Morrison said.

To meet the full 5 percent budget reduction, parks officials had proposed a number of cuts. Senior Program Specialist Sharon Laws is retiring on June 30 and she would have been replaced by a $20,000 per year temporary worker, for a savings of $30,000.

That would have meant fewer operating hours at the Senior Center, the end of senior outreach efforts and no help from the Senior Program for the city's utility discount and heating assistance programs.

Former Ashland City Councilor Don Laws, husband to Sharon Laws, came to speak in support of the Senior Program. He served on the program's board of directors in the 1970s and 1980s.

"The problem with growing old is you gradually over time lose your support network. Friends and family move away or die. You become more and more isolated,"

he said. "The Ashland Senior Program has been able to help with that."

The program gets calls from relatives, police officers and utility workers about senior citizens who need help. The Senior Program directly aids seniors and also can refer them to many outside assistance services, Laws said.

In addition to preserving the full Senior Program, the budget committee decided not to eliminate $82,000 in parks funding for policing, spared $100,000 earmarked to develop a neighborhood park and avoided other cuts.

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