Despite over a 150% increase in our water and sewer bills since 2009 and sitting on tens of millions of dollars in cash, Ashland Public Works is requesting yet an additional 4% increase in 2019 for both water and sewer utility rates. Ashlanders already spend a base amount of $90 month or over $1,000 per year before using a drop of water or kilowatt of electricity.
Over the years, the city has been accumulating cash in Public Works for future projects. Information provided to the Budget Committee last week revealed that in fiscal year 2018, the city collected $4 million more from water, wastewater and storm drain ratepayers than needed to cover operating expenses and debt service. Most of these funds go underspent and none get returned to ratepayers. Fully funding future projects has been the norm for a number of years but doesn’t represent best budgeting practices in Oregon. That policy has resulted in a huge cash hoard that sits on the books of the Public Works Department.
Affordability is a threat to Ashland that our city has yet to comprehend. Why wouldn’t Public Works just reallocate idle cash and use it to supplement the funds they expected to generate for these rate increases? Or better yet why wouldn’t Public Works use the interest income generated from idle cash to help pay for the rate increases? That would at least temporally ease the burden on Ashland citizens.
It’s a shame that Ashland isn’t more affordable. If it were, the 70% of city staff that live outside the Ashland zip code might be able to afford to live here. It’s about time these departments begin to understand what is at stake. They need to rein in their spending or enough will never be enough..
Garrett Furuichi, Former Ashland Citizens’ Budget Committee Member