Additional Commentary on Ashland’s Budget – Next Meeting, May 25 at 6:00pm – Be There, It is Your Money

What is happening with the Ashland Budget for 2017-2019??

Ashland Budget Committee Meeting  –  May 11, 2017

Facts presented by the interim finance director –Bev Adams

 

  • 19.1% budget increase from the last biennium; an increase of $46 million and a 46% increase for 2 budget cycles.
  • challenges:
  • Public Employees Retirement System (PERS)
  • 20.4 % increase or $2.2 million
  • $1.76 million of the above is state wide liability
  • $450,000 of the $2.2 is an increase in employee PERS
  • Health Care Costs (the city is self insured)
  • $525,000 internal loan outstanding which must be repaid annually and then needs to be reborrowed to keep the fund solvent. Staff would like to have debt forgiven but it has been recommended that the interest be waived but not the debt.  If the debt is forgiven, it can not ever be  repaid.
  • claims are exceeding premiums
  • 18% increase in health care budget
  • Warning: Ashland can expect at least $2.2 million increases in PERS every budget cycle for the foreseeable future.  In the opinion of the Financial Director, the Ashland financial state is fragile and vulnerable.  The $1.2million reserve is now $25,000.  Much of the reserve was spent on the city’s self-insured health care.
  • 9.4% increase in personnel/benefits
  • All the utility rate increases are included in the budget as revenue even though the electric increase has yet to be passed by the Council.

Each service under administration was reviewed briefly by the committee. Parks presented a budget.

One information request by the citizens of the committee was tabled until the next meeting with the hope that the information will be forthcoming. More detail is sought for the Personnel Services account, the aggragated total of salaries for a department. This is by far the largest expense the city has , regardless of department, and there is little information provided as to how it is calculated.  With the challenge of PERS and the increase in personnel/benefit expenses, the members asked for the detail of each salary in the city.  At issue is the PERS expense per department and employee and how the budget addresses the $2.2million increase.  Staff strongly objected to sharing this data, hence it was tabled.

The council chamber was full with citizens.  Some spoke to the need for a new employee for the Climate Environmental Action Plan (CEAP) others asked questions regarding the budget and its process.

Questions arose as to why Municipal Court collections continue to fall despite the fact that the caseload has not changed significantly.  The response was that the type of offense or severity is less than in the past.

The parks department was questioned about the financial viability of the golf division.  Currently, they recover about 56% of costs and are targeting 60%+ recovery.  It was pointed out that none of the park operations recover costs and that they all, pool, skating rink , recreation classes, are offered as services  to the community.  Moreover, they offer other values aesthetic values to the community.

The parks department would like to pursue the rebuild of the Meyer Pool, complete with cover for winter operation. The cost for this is estimated at $3,250,000 and they will seek partnerships with the school districts in Ashland and Phoenix.  Construction would be funded by issuing bonds or soliciting grants.

Next Meeting:  Thursday, May 18, 6:00pm at the Council Chamber

  • Major issue:  The additional five police officers that the Council approved have no revenue stream or plan to pay for the $500k+/year.  The initial plan was a $5/month surcharge on utility bills.  This is still a viable way to pay for the officers.  No other proposal is emerging.
  • The fire department is also budgeting for the addition of three more firefighters to add to three added during the last budget cycle.

There was a request regarding legal suit provisions. Legal counsel assured the group there were no pending suits or claims and that the reserve was just provisional.

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//inserted by Sharon