Citizens Speak on Ashland Budget Problems: Kenneth Wilson

Ken Wilson, an Ashland resident, spoke to members of the budget committee on May 22, 2019. His message is worthy of your reading it. More citizens should get involved and speak at meetings. June 4, 7:00pm council chamber on East Main is your next opportunity.

Mr. Wilson was not permitted to complete his statement in public. Three minutes was the limit. The last paragraph is important. He criticizes but offers some wise solutions.

5/22/19

Budget Committee Members….Unfortunately I was unable to complete my presentation last night, so I am including the text below for your review.  I intended this to be constructive criticism, but only was able to get through the criticism part and not the constructive suggestions.  Please read these near the end as I believe they have value. I am somewhat disappointed that I wasn’t given an extra minute to complete this since in a similar situation the previous week this was granted to our former mayor…..Ken

Last week during the public forum I had to grit my teeth while a former mayor pontificated on how well the city had been run in the past from a financial standpoint and that the real problem was something we couldn’t control, PERS.  I disagree!

Our major problem is that we have too many employees…3 times the per capita average of what other Oregon cities with over 10,000 in population have….why, because rather than outsource or work together with other municipalities in an area for economies of scale, our city council has said “we can manage it better ourselves and we’re special”. Again, I disagree.  Just a few examples:

Until the late nineties we could have hooked up to Medford’s sewer treatment operation resulting in lower costs for our community, now it’s too late.  In a recent article in the Sneak Preview the editor stated that we have spent $54 million since 1992 just to maintain our facility, he thought this was the most financially irresponsible decision the city has ever made.

We have our own fiber network which still has $7 million in debt on our books, a golf course that has run a deficit of $1.7 million over the past 10 years, a fire department whose budget has grown by 45% over the past 6 years and where only 4% of the calls are for fire. Much of the rest of the calls were for ambulance service that could have been outsourced.

From the expense management side, we also see a similar picture.  We have known for a while that we had a tsunami of expenses related to PERS and health care coming. Why are we spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies for a new city hall when a much less expensive rehab alternative is available and was recommended by a citizen study committee.

We have spent over a million dollars since 2011 on economic development without any updated objectives, performance metrics and accountability.  We have 10 employees who earn over $200K in total compensation and 65% earn over $100K in total compensation.  When compared to salaries of other Oregon cities, again with a population of over 10,000, our salaries for higher paid workers are for the most part in the upper range. Surely, we could do better in the salary management area, especially since salaries represent 70% of our expenses.  Shouldn’t our city be looking at reorganization or consolidation to save on management overhead rather than targeting rank and file employees.

There are many more areas, but I won’t go on as my time is limited.  However, I want to dispel the myth that reducing expenses will necessarily reduce services.  Having gone through many budgeting exercises I can attest to the fact that there are always ways to get the job done more efficiently and effectively…we just have to be creative in our approach and actions.

I would also recommend that in the future we go to a priority driven budget as described in the document I recently emailed to you all.  This was written by a committee from The Government Finance Officers Association, so I think it has some credibility.  I have attached an additional copy of this document for your review.

Based on where we are right now and the problems we are facing, I would recommend that we go back to a one-year budgeting process.  This may seem controversial, but given the nature of the problems we face, I think it would be a wise move.  Also, because many problems can’t be solved in this forum, I would like to see the City Council create permanent agenda items and solicit public input for the issues raised during this budget process for future Council meetings so that we can come up with creative solutions to our problems.

I know from experience that budgeting is hard work hard work and takes a lot of time and energy. Please don’t rush this process as we have until the end of June to get it right.  Thank you for listening and for your time and effort in this budgeting cycle.

Kenneth Wilson

Ashland, Oregon

//inserted by Sharon