Two options are way too few

Roughly 70 percent of Ashland voters approved a property tax levy that would fund the operation of the libraries and allow them to be reopened.

Seventy percent (include rural Ashland residents) is overwhelming in a city known for its vast disagreements on most anything &

so getting Ashland to approve its own levy should be a slam dunk.

Mayor John Morrison has come out boldly on the issue &

no doubt comfortable enough with the 70 percent support to take a strong stance &

vowing to reopen the Ashland library as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the budget committee issued two quick options for getting the job done.

Yet the only two options put forward are a tax hike and utility hike, or a levy for a tax hike.

Option one reopens the library in July, but is fraught with problems. Most critically, the city would have to max its property taxes, while at the same time returning to a utility hike that residents abhorred just a year ago.

How fast will that 70 percent plummet once residents understand that this would, in effect, eliminate the city's reserve funds? This gap in allowable increase to property taxes is now the city's primary buffer in times of crisis. Likewise, how long before those who pummeled City Hall over the utility hike last year decide this is not exactly what they had in mind when they voted 'yes' for the library levy?

Option two is basically the same levy for which the local electorate just voted. Conventional wisdom says it should pass again, despite ample discussion about alternative plans and operational savings that could reduce the amount of the levy.

City council has had months to prepare as the levy's demise was a near certainty. Optimism is one thing &

failure to establish a contingency plan is quite another. Shouldn't we expect a more creative solution than two poor choices?

Ashland is swirling in a tornado of budget cuts and declining revenue. Taking the money to fund the library means money not going somewhere else. It could mean a future tax levy (perhaps the Youth Activities Levy that will have to be revamped) being rejected. What happens if the city again needs emergency funds, but has overcommitted to the library by raising taxes to the legal limit?

Seventy percent of the vote is, as Morrison said, a vote of clarity for the people of Ashland. They want the library reopened. But how it gets reopened is where the true test of leadership will be graded.

Any plan to reopen the library must start with a thorough review of the expenses that make up that $1.2 million figure we've heard tossed about. It must be paired with significant cuts that would streamline the costs of the library. Residents should be given a detailed breakdown of those costs.

Fundraising efforts must be included, as well as discussion of revenue generation that can help defray the burden on the taxpayer. Perhaps the formation of a library commission is needed to spearhead fundraising, lobby the federal government and monitor operational costs. The library should also be a catalyst for vital indepth discussions about concrete plans for local economic growth.

Every indicator shows the most politically expedient option will be the only true option offered. Raise the taxes, open the library and worry about the impact later, when the momentum of public support has subsided.

While we certainly want the library reopened, we first want to see strong leadership that develops a specific plan built on the will and support of the community. This planning starts by weighing as many options as possible to accomplish the goal &

and moves forward with the full talent of ingenuity and creativity for which the people of Ashland are known.

Share This Story