Budget committee nixes solar farm, AHS-to-SOU scholarships

Two add-on packages that received strong support from community members at Ashland Citizens Budget Committee meetings failed to garner the necessary votes to be included in the city’s final budget. A proposed scholarship fund for Ashland High School graduates to attend Southern Oregon Universtiy and a proposal to conduct a feasibility study to build a solar farm on city property were voted down during the Budget Committee’s final meeting on Thursday night.

Both projects, however, could see new life through other channels. While the committee elected 10-5 not to allocate funds to seed $50,000 dollar scholarship fund, council members Mike Morris and Pam Marsh said they felt the project would be a good candidate for economic development grants.

The solar farm project, proposed on the city’s Imperitrice property abutting Eagle Mill Road, was voted down in a 9-5 vote. The city is slated to conduct a study session on the property on June 15, and several members of the Budget Committee said they felt the appropriate time to address the possibility of a solar farm would be during a comprehensive examination of the parcel.

The committee approved one-time expenditures for the Ashland Police Department to procure new Tasers and cameras for APD, as well as a vehicle for the deputy chief of police. They committee also approved $30,000 to employ two additional APD cadets to bolster police presence in the downtown core.

The Ashland Fire Department received funding to establish a full-time position for the Fire Adaptive Community coordinator, a role that has historically been part-time. The fire department also received funding for new defibrillators, emergency training for AFD staff, and $36,000 to fund community emergency preparedness courses.

The committee amended a one-time expenditure to conduct a facilities master plan for city properties that would also include a feasibility study for a new City Hall, cutting the appropriationg from $200,000 to $100,000. The committee said city staff should prioritize the items that would have been funded under the original, larger amount and determine which could most effectively be accomplished given the reduced funding.

A one-time expenditure for restoration of Iron Mike, the historic statue atop the fountain on the Plaza, was approved in the amount of $37,500. The statue was badly damaged in October 2014 when someone climbed the statue, breaking off part of a limb and the statue's rifle.

The Budget Committee is wrapping up four weeks of public meetings on the proposed two-year budget for fiscal years 2015-2017. Now that the $237 million budget has passed out of the Budget Committee, it goes to the City Council for approval. Ashland uses a biennial budget process, allocating funds every two years. This is the second budget cycle under this model and City expenditures have grown about $35 million dollars in that time.

The City Council will vote on approval of the budget in June ahead of the start of the fiscal year on July 1. The council's regular meetings are set for June 2 and June 16.

Alec Dickinson is an Ashland freelance writer.

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