Council Corner: Can we do it all in Ashland?

Ashland is a city of involved and proactive citizens who work hard on their areas of passion and concern. We have commissions, groups, ad hoc groups and advisory groups in the public and nonprofit sectors with actions they would like to see the city embrace. We also have a budget committee that has stressed in the last weeks the need for the city to look at how we can live within our means.

Can we do it all? Can we build tiny villages, produce 10 percent of our energy locally, increase work force housing, shelter the homeless, reduce our carbon footprint, fund an affordable housing trust fund, hire a climate and action plan position, hire a parking co-coordinator, build a year-round pool, retrofit or build a new City Hall, finance turning Lincoln and Briscoe school yards into parks and build a water plant while still meeting our basic city needs, paying off our AFN debt, our wastewater treatment plant and employee salaries and benefits?

This last budget cycle was a difficult experience for me in facing the fact that we may not be able to do it all. We are a city of around 20,000 with a population that has not increased much over the years and yet we have seen many changes in our city, including an increase in tourists, college students, working poor, senior citizens and transients, which created the need for additional services and staff. I also understand more clearly that there is concern about spending more for all the programs and services we may want and keeping our city affordable for all.

The demands for doing more will only increase as the federal government has changed and the cities and states are pressed to do more with less money. Climate changes and the social factors also add to the demand on city resources.

Our staff now has additional job responsibilities. For example, to have staff liaisons for all our groups and commissions now takes more than the equivalent of a full-time staff person.

City staff also play additional roles. The police act as crisis intervention workers in dealing with the increasing population of individuals who are mentally ill or drug addicted to try to deescalate potential violence. The fire department is and will continue to receive more emergency calls as our population of older folks increases. They are also tasked with providing more programs to prevent and respond to the increased risk of wildfire and disaster preparedness programs.

The Parks Department must deal with the increased need to clean up refuse left by illegal campsites and damage to bathrooms and facilities as well as servicing all our dog waste stations. Public Works is affected by more severe weather patterns, causing more overtime work by staff.

I have thought about this a lot lately. Seeing the big picture and how the pieces fit together, the development of a strategic plan to guide us forward toward what we want Ashland to be 10 years from now. How most efficiently to run our city and leverage community involvement in this process. As David Wick of the Peace Commission said to me recently, ”Maybe it is time to hit the refresh button, it’s a new day.”

I leave you with the question of how do we accomplish this? How do we create a community vision of what is most important not just to us but also to the other guy? Is it time to develop a new structure to get more broad-based input from our citizens about what is most important to them? Should we look at creating a more holistic commission and group advisory structure that is more integrated as well as being more time-efficient for liaisons and staff? Change is not easy, but we must look at how efficiently we run our city, for there may be less money and more need in our future.

We must come together as a community and realize the city can do only part of the job. The business community, faith-based groups, service organizations, schools and individual citizens will increasingly need to step forward to create an Ashland that is caring, diverse, inclusive, environmentally sensitive and a place we all want to live.

— Stef Seffinger is chairwoman of the Ashland City Council.

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