Ashland’s City Council can’t seem to figure out how to fund our city.
When the motion to increase our property taxes was first brought to a vote, which was during the final 2017-2019 budget hearing on June 5 when the seven citizen members of the Budget Committee were included in the vote, the motion for an increase in property taxes failed. Fifteen days later, with only members of the City Council voting, the increase in our taxes was passed. City councilors must now take full responsibility for increasing our taxes and for doing so immediately on the heels of voting to increase our utility rates by 7 percent.
At issue is how to pay for five new Ashland police officers, projected to cost the city $525,000 per year for the first two years and more thereafter. What’s missing in the discussion is whether or not we truly need these officers at all. Read Shaun Moran’s white paper on this subject in The Ashland Chronicle: http://bit.ly/2tcet2g. Bear in mind, Ashland’s population has remained virtually unchanged for decades, and the need for so much additional policing is uncertain.
Councilors mean to soothe the sting of the 7 percent utility rate increase by insisting it will only amount to $2 or $3 or $4 per month. But if you’re struggling to make ends meet, which many Ashland residents are ― particularly those who live on fixed incomes or are bearing huge rent increases ― this rate hike is not small potatoes. Property taxes are a more progressive tax, i.e., one levied on people most able to pay ― homeowners ― while utility rate increases amount to a regressive tax that falls disproportionately on the poor. Yet the councilors and mayor, the “deciders,” condescendingly insist that surely we can afford both and that the utility rate hikes amount to very little.
Well, hang on to your wallets, because they’ll only get worse. The council voted unanimously to hire these five new officers at a cost of at least $525,000 for the first and second year. The property tax increase will cover less than half of that cost for the five new officers, approximately $225,000. Given the city’s extremely generous benefits package, this cost will rise, and with it our utility bills.
Bear in mind, we taxpayers shoulder the escalating price tag for all of the PERS benefits, which is 12 percent of each employee’s salary, plus 95 percent of public employees’ health insurance premiums, plus the cost of loans to pay for health care claims that the premiums don’t cover. Self-insurance for health care is another burden on taxpayers. The $525,000 per year is the minimum we should expect to pay for the new officers, and the cost will only increase going forward.
Police officer salaries should be covered by the general fund. If the council cannot find the means within the general fund to pay for these officers, then they should rescind the decision to hire them and wait until the city can fiscally afford the cost.
CALL TO ACTION: Attend the City Council’s special meeting at 3 p.m. Friday, June 30, in the Council Chamber at 1155 E. Main St. Let the council know how you feel about the high cost of the five new officers and the utility rate increase.
— Carol Voisin is a former member of the Ashland City Council.