A Veteran Citizen Budget Watcher & One Who Comments on It Weighs in on the Issues

To the 14 Budget Committee members:

I have some thoughts regarding the “process” to share with you prior to listening to the upcoming presentation of the recommended budget on March 30, 2021. Having observed 2 past Budget Committee deliberations,  has left me with recollections of lost opportunities. I observed lost opportunities by Members to listen respectfully, be fully transparent with information requested, and avoid “dodging” questions that IF candidly answered would have helped all involved to understand the financial condition of our town. I watched as some City Council members and City Staff brushed aside well informed Public Committee members’ questions regarding City expenditures and questions that tried to explore the sources of funding being shifted around. 

Any of you who were involved in earlier Budget Committee work will recognized my observations. I urge this new Budget Committee to remember it is the Ashland taxpayer and visitors ( who spend $$ here)  who finance the workings of our town. 
It is imperative that past mistakes in finance decisions, CIP projects, City staffing levels and payroll be candidly discussed. Ignoring poor past planning cannot continue. Many residents have repeatedly requested that expenditures be reduced. Only to be ignored. Usually what is presented by staff are ideas for  “revenue enhancement”.  And the past City Councils have seemed unable or unwilling to refocus the City Staff on presenting cost cutting ideas. The few cost cutting ideas that have been presented were trivial, in my opinion. 

Residents want to be shown the rationale for where and why their $$$ is being spent.
Residents want to know why we have so many staff, more than other towns our size by a lot!
Residents want to know who thinks up and prioritizes the projects in our HUGE CIP.
Residents want to see the City staff be responsive to Citizens’ feedback.
Residents want the City staff making our financial decisions be held responsible for their decisions.

The management of City funds in the years 2015-2019 ( including the 2017-2019 budget) appear to have some questionable rationale . I observed as some former “public members “ of the past  Budget Committees attempted to “tease out” the details, only to be steamrolled and left frustrated and insulted and without clear answers. This past behavior is not going to get us to where we need to go in solving our financial woes…it must be replaced with cooperation and truthfulness. 

In closing, I urge all of you to understand that this work is critical and your contribution to the success of getting Ashland’s  “Financial House”  in order will be validated and much appreciated by every Ashland resident.

My final observation is this: We need to return to the annual budget model which would allow a more streamline and clear way to track our expenses and find areas that are overrun and/or underfunded more quickly. This biennium model is unmanageable.

Thank you and good luck.

Susan Hall RN, Ashland