Mayor sees opportunities ahead

Ashland Police Officers, Steve MacLennan, right, and Matt Caswell, left, marks measurements after an auto accident Nov. 9,2007.

FRONTPAGE IMAGE: Mayor John Morrison listens to members of the community at a City Council Meeting Tueasday evening. Photo by Thom Larkin.

Mayor John Morrison outlined the city of Ashland's accomplishments during the past year and detailed challenges ahead during his 2008 State of the City address Tuesday night.

Morrison, who said he would only serve one four-year term as mayor when he ran for office in 2004, said he hasn't changed that position. The speech was therefore his last State of the City address.

Morrison said 2007 has been a difficult year for members of the Ashland City Council.

The council received widespread criticism from residents and drew national media attention after news broke in October 2007 that the city would pay $37,000 for five months of group and individual training.

"As we move into the New Year, I want the council and community to know that I believe we are a stronger council because we have taken responsibility for our own weaknesses as a working group," Morrison said.

The council has worked more cooperatively to build consensus before voting on issues since the sessions with Kirschner began.

Morrison said two accomplishments from 2007 will have lasting benefits for the community.

The City Council placed a tax measure on the ballot that voters approved to fund the Ashland Public Library. Most other libraries in Jackson County are operating with minimal hours in the wake of a county funding crisis, but Ashland's library has remained open during the day with some evening and weekend hours.

Morrison said another significant accomplishment was the hiring of Police Chief Terry Holderness and the police department's transition to community-oriented policing.

"The department successfully tackled the serious problem of drug sales in our downtown area. We will soon have a permanent presence on the Plaza with a police substation providing higher visibility, quicker response and better service to all," Morrison said.

He said police officers have received nationally recognized training in problem solving, and the department is putting on a leadership academy that will include participants from other Rogue Valley police departments. This year, the Ashland Police Department will work directly with neighborhoods so that residents can help identify and address problems.

Other accomplishments included adopting a Public Arts Master Plan and new ethics rules, and hiring staff members Bill Molnar to become Community Development Department director and Richard Appicello to take over as city attorney, Morrison said.

As for the future, he said the community must create a new vision for Ashland.

However, the Ashland Citizens Budget Committee nixed funding for a city-wide visioning process during the spring 2007 budget process.

The committee did approve funding for a redevelopment plan for the Croman Mill site on Mistletoe Road. The state of Oregon has provided a grant to speed that process.

"The 65-acre property is vital for development of industries that fit with our community's culture and take advantage of our talented workforce," Morrison said.

The clean-up and development of the 20-acre railroad property near A street will also be important for Ashland's economic development and diversification, he said.

On the transportation front, Morrison said the city needs to work with the Rogue Valley Transportation District, Southern Oregon University, the city of Medford, the business community and residents to secure reliable, stable transit service that provides a real alternative to the car.

In 2006, RVTD cut back routes and services in the wake of a budget shortfall.

Morrison said the city needs to finish the missing links in its own pedestrian and bicycle network, including adding sidewalks on Laurel Street and finishing the Central Ashland Bike Path.

The street system itself faces a serious challenge, with a Transportation Financing Task Force identifying a $2 million annual gap in funding and the cost to maintain and repair roads, he said.

To promote sustainability, Morrison said the city will continue its efforts to conserve and reuse water, reduce petroleum consumption and support renewable energy.

For the city government itself, he said city officials are continuing to evaluate facilities and city-owned land. The city may be able to share equipment and space with other governments.

The City Council, Ashland School District Board and Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission regularly hold meetings to discuss issues of joint concern.

The city must ensure that it is paying a fair wage to employees and mentoring younger workers so that they can step into leadership roles as senior managers retire, Morrison said.

The city also faces significant financial challenges that could require cuts in services, examining the best use of existing taxes and reviewing fees such as sewer rates, he said.

Morrison said he believes the council's commitment to livability, diversity, economic health, car-free mobility, sustainability and the highest quality local government will be its legacy.

"In closing, let me say I look forward to 2008. I look forward to the future beyond that," he said. "I look forward to working with the council, with city staff and with the citizens of Ashland in the coming year."

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