Ashland Citizen Budget Committee Meetings: The City Is Financially Vulnerable – Let’s Get Real !!
Ashland Citizen Budget Committee Meetings: The City Is Financially Vulnerable Let’s Get Real
I have attended the last two joint city council/ citizens budget committee hearings regarding the 2017-19 biennial city budget. As I’ve observed the hearings (a total of 10 hours so far, not counting extra time for city council meetings), I’ve seen several citizen budget committee members as well as interim Finance Director Beverly Adams directly inform the entire body that Ashland is under the mistaken illusion that our funds are endless. In reality, our total reserve stands at around $25,000 and we are very close to maxing out our ability for additional levy through property tax.
The proposed 2017-19 budget is $285,832,964, an increase of $45,928,130 or 19.1% over the amended 2015-17 biennial budget. Not included in this budget is a request for an increase of $1.3 million, to fund five new police officer positions for the biennium. Funding has not yet been identified for these positions, nor the other new positions that have been requested for other departments.
I would have thought this revelation could sober any realistic person involved in this years’ budget process, particularly in terms of adding any newly funded positions. Apparently, I’m wrong. In spite of the facts and concerns presented by highly qualified professionals, there have been no withdrawals (or even downsizing) of requests for 5 new police officers and a number of additional new positions in other city departments.
A critical factor to bear in mind regarding full time positions goes far beyond the salary itself. The City is responsible for paying 100% of the employees’ PERS contributions, now costing the city $4 million per year or $8 million for the 2017-19 biennium. The city also must contribute to a short fall of Statewide PERS funding, costing the city $2.2 million this year and possible future bienniums.
In addition to this, Ashland’s employee health insurance is self-funded. In other words, rather than paying a group premium for ‘no-lifetime limit’ health insurance, the city has its own fund. This can be cost effective until a number of employees experience serious, long term medical issues. If that occurs, the fund can be rapidly depleted. Currently, the city outlay is 12 million dollars a year for health care. Then consider the total current Salary & Benefits package for the proposed 2017-19 budget – it is $67,164,447.
I have not heard a single compelling justification (regardless of how earnest the rationale may appear) for any of the new positions that overrides my concerns regarding the city’s intermediate term solvency. I’ve lived in cities that have initiated layoffs under less dire circumstances than what we’re experiencing here, so ‘make do’ really isn’t too much for us to ask.
Citizen of Ashland