If you receive a letter in the mail from the city of Ashland asking your opinion, then you’ve been chosen to participate in a survey which may set the course for the city in several possible ways.
The City Council in a study session Monday narrowed down its areas of questioning in conjunction with the budget process which will be underway in spring. The idea is to be more clear about citizen priorities as councilors decide how to spend the people’s money. City staff is in the process of creating a short survey which will be mailed to 1,500 residents for their opinion on subjects as diverse as city hall and climate change.
Councilors considered language and subject areas and came up with asking about the importance of essential services such as fire and police, as well as a couple of questions about global warming, affordable housing, homeless services and emergency preparedness.
The sticking point before making a final decision about what to include in the survey focused on capital projects. The city staff initially thought of asking the public’s opinion about seismic improvements to city hall, a new senior center and an aquatic center and tying that question to increased property taxes.
Mayor John Stromberg told councilors and staff he was concerned about getting the public’s input on projects implying tax increases when it may not be necessary to raise taxes and when the projects couldn’t be adequately explained or discussed. “This is madness. It poisons the well for the city to ask about capital projects that way,” he told councilors.
Instead the council and staff decided to ask an open-ended question about investing in making city hall seismically sound. The other projects, the mayor argued, could be discussed in a more formal setting after more research and consideration.
Councilors also discussed the possibility of considering electric trolleys as part of the questionnaire, as proposed by Councilor Carol Voisin, but eventually opted out of doing that. “It’s a big question. While it’s a good idea I’m not sure we’re ready for it,” said Councilor Pam Marsh. The discussion shifted to a future feasibility study about electric public transportation. “We’ve been talking about this for 20 years as part of our plan,” said Voisin of the idea.
Those selected randomly for the survey will be receiving it in late October or early November.
Councilors also agreed at the Monday study session that they will continue to work on guidelines for public mural art. They heard from the Public Arts Commission on a possible handout for those interested in creating murals on public buildings. It would, among other things, require plans to be submitted in advance for approval and the guidance of a professional mural artist. The council heard initial plans but will continue considering the Public Art Commission mural proposal in future study sessions.
They also plan to create a study session about ordinances relating to car camping. “I’ve been promising a report about how Eugene handles this and this would be a good time to present it,” said Mayor Stromberg. Councilor Voisin requested the session and the rest of the council agreed to set it up for the Dec. 5 meeting.
Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.