Rubber Stamping Is the Opposite of Thinking Critically

Here’s a recommendation for City Manager Joe Lessard in dealing with the Citizens Budget Committee in 2025. 

If the committee’s make-up is similar to this year’s — present your budget proposal and hand out rubber stamps with the message “Approved.”  It would save a lot of time and effort by the Finance Director and her staff, no meetings would be necessary.

Facing a general fund deficit of $7.1 million, this year’s committee finished its work last week with only two changes from the $383 million biennial budget even though spending is increased $80 million from the 2021-23 budget and there’s a $7.1 million deficit in the general fund.

One of the changes added $400,000 in spending to hire a fire marshal and fire training officer.  The second suggested that the City Council consider a Charter amendment to do away with the Ashland Municipal Court and hand over its responsibilities to the Jackson County Justice Court which oversees traffic fines and code violations for Talent, Phoenix, Jacksonville, Central Point and Shady Cove.   The Ashland Court faces a $650,000 shortfall in the 2023-25 budget.

During five meetings, Budget Committee members asked few questions of city officials and only four committee members even proposed changes.  Not a peep was heard from a majority of committee members.  Further, this year’s committee voted down a motion to require the city government to provide staff salary information which was given out two years ago.  Personnel costs are the single biggest expenditure in the general fund.

Most committee members apparently didn’t read their job description – to closely review the proposed budget and suggest changes to ensure balance, to address important issues facing the city and represent the views of city tax and ratepayers.

A motion to close the Oak Knoll Golf Course was defeated even though a citizens survey put this at the top of the cost savings measures.  Instead approval was given to the Parks Commission proposal to spend $550,000 to upgrade the golf course, which loses an average of $200,000 a year.