As a new member of the Ashland Citizen’s Budget Committee, I was unfamiliar with the process and the City Council's views on spending.
Over the four weeks of negotiations and meetings, it became clear that the process was confusing and what the CBC could ask for and was legally entitled to demand was not clearly known. Confusing the process further, the figures — though all in the budget — were spread through numerous sections and the clarity could certainly have been better.
Over the four meetings, there were concerns raised by other citizen members around the spending, suggesting a need to stay within a budget, by cost cutting where necessary, to pay for the council's priorities. This view was further highlighted by citizens themselves, who took the time to come and state their concerns around the raising of rates and taxes, yet the council ignored it all, and raised taxes and rates in the desire to proceed with their plan.
We would all like to see Ashland prosper and fund everyone’s desires; however, like all cities, we have limited revenues and funds and need to change the culture within this city government, to spend within our capacity. We need to look to the future, and plan spending over a few years and not reactively spend everything at once with little thought to what happens when the economy slows. Consistently raising taxes and utility rates is not the long-term solution.
When I voted on the budget, I did so with the expectation that the tax rate would remain unchanged, and that the council would look within the budget for cuts to fund its priorities. I was obviously naive in my expectations.
Being a little more versed in the process of the budget committee and the council, I would now most certainly have voted no on the budget. I think the council is being reckless with the overspending, and when we do go through another market correction, we will have to make aggressive cuts within our workforce to compensate, and yet have the burden of severance payments, PERS and other costs still left to contend with.
I feel the council already had its policies and plans in place before the Budget Committee, that councilors knew they had the necessary votes to pass their budget, and that they had already agreed to the means by which they were going to fund all their desires within the budget, no matter what the citizen members voted.
In closing, I feel the city government needs to change its culture of excessive spending to something that is more akin to living within the budget that the city of Ashland can afford, and taking a longer term view on how to create reserve funds over a period of years to save and build to pay for larger projects that are a priority to the council.
— Citizens Budget Committee Member Sal Amery lives in Ashland.