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Angry Ashland Budget Committee member resigns

Garrett Furuichi resigned from the citizen’s Budget Committee in Tuesday’s City Council meeting after criticizing the council’s management of the budget in the last decade.

He also said the council has been “offensive and improper” in past dealings with him.

Furuichi noted Monday night’s session discussing master planning, capital improvements and the budget process, when he asked for the total cost of each capital asset. Mayor John Stromberg immediately asked him Monday why he needed that information.

“Well, because it’s public information, and required by GASB (governmental accounting standards board) 34 in the audit,” Furuichi responded. “This is the same condemnation that I suffered when I asked about overtime and other issues in the last budget cycle.”

Within the five minutes allotted for each speaker in the public comment period, Furuichi quickly went through a laundry list of accusations. He said the budget has increased at significantly higher rates than the rate of inflation and has been for at least the last decade.

“Your attempt at being dismissive about the size of the budget is not acknowledging the truth,” Furuichi said.

“Using the OpenGov numbers, the budget is up 48 percent or $30.2 million and this is equivalent to 3.46 times the rate of inflation and this is unsustainable growth,” Furuichi said.

The city's finance director in a later interview disputed some of Furuichi's numbers.

“There are a number of other topics, issues and items to be raised and I believe that I can be more effective without your constraints and ridicule, therefore I resign from the Budget Committee,” Furuich said.

In a later interview, Mark Welch, the city’s finance director, said there has been a 45 percent budget increase over the past 10 years, looking at total city spending. He said on average, it’s been about a 4 to 4.5 percent increase per year. He said in an effort to be more transparent the city has recently created a website which explains why that is, how it happened and some other frequently asked questions. The website will be formally launched later this week but can be accessed at https://bit.ly/2Oukm6x.

Welch also said a budget-process ad hoc committee was assembled after the last budget process to create a document which will serve as a guideline for future budget processes.

“Garrett was instrumental in making sure and pushing for this full transparency which we have implemented, and I really appreciate that,” Welch said.

Furuichi also said the increases in utility fees to pay for city projects and general fund shortfalls were unfair to residents.

“The increase in utility fees and charges was based on a false assumption that this will save taxpayers money,” Furuichi said. “How many people do you know that can pay the full purchase price of a home or a car? Most of us must utilize debt.”

Welch countered that the city is borrowing because it doesn’t have the funds to pay for capital projects with cash.

“For the water treatment plant we have a $15 million loan that we’ve already agreed to,” Welch said. “We won’t collect any money until we do the project so we are debt financing major projects. We’re not cash funding projects, we’re actually using debt... .”

Welch said the money collected from the utility goes to that service because funds cannot be transferred.

“That’s why we have separate funds,” Welch said. “Funds we collect and raise are 100 percent for that purpose. You can’t co-mingle funds.”

After Furuichi spoke Tuesday, the council suspended the rules so Councilor Dennis Slattery could comment during the public comment period.

“We went through a budget process that everybody in that budget process should take full responsibility for not doing a very good job of,” Slattery said. “The promises made by past administrations to utilize the Budget Committee in the off years was never fulfilled so we have worked to fix that.”

Slattery also said the most disconcerting factor to him was that some people involved with the budget process have missed too many meetings.

“The absentee rate of the people who are most critical has been really high,” Slattery said.

As Furuichi began to reapproach the microphone, apparently to rebut Slattery’s statement, an action not usually allowed during the public comment period, Slattery said, “No, you’re done,” before continuing his next statement.

“It’s OK, I get it, we’re playing politics with the budget,” Slattery said. “That’s unfortunate. I think if you want to recognize that you haven’t been heard, you also need to be at the table.”

Toward the end of Slattery’s statement Furuichi left the room, accompanied by a small group of people that included council candidate Carol Voisin.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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