This is Part II of the response. Read Part I first.
The mantra that Ashland’s government is overstaffed compared to other cities of similar size is glaringly disingenuous by not comparing apples to apples. Ashland has more full-time employees than Central Point or Klamath Falls, for example, because it provides significantly more services to its citizens.
It’s true that Ashland has, over the years decided to own almost every service it provides, which has been needlessly costly for Ashlanders. As a result, we have 1 employee for every 78 citizens while the average for cities our size in Oregon is 1 for every 234.
Fiscally responsible cities ensure the fewest number of employees possible because of the ever-growing liability of PERS and health care and the associated infrastructure and expensive management resources required to maintain staff.
Unfortunately, Ashland will be forced to continue increasing our already onerous taxes, surcharges and fees or cut more and more non-essential services to cover our constant and dramatically increasing costs for personnel.
We operate our own electric, water and wastewater utilities, an ambulance service, and a fiber optic network. These services save Ashlanders money every month compared to alternative providers, and they require staffing and resources to operate and manage.
How do these services save Ashlanders money every month? For example, with all the extra surcharges taxes and fees, Ashlanders now pay more for electricity per kilowatt than those living in nearby communities served by private utilities.
AFN serves a smaller portion of city residents than does a privately owned internet provider because a majority of city residents believe they get better service at a lower cost. AFN has never made money, it’s cost taxpayers at least $15 million and we still carry a debt of $7 million. How has this saved Ashlanders money?
Last year, Curtis Hayden of Sneak Preview pointed out that the most irresponsible financial decision our elected officials have ever made was to build a waste water treatment plant in 1970 and then rehab it in 1990’s. If we had instead joined the Bear Creek Valley Sanitary Authority in Medford, he estimates Ashlanders would have saved $160 million over the last 40 years.
An effective city council would have asked if we really need our own ambulance service years ago. Evidence from the Cost Containment Committee headed by Councilor Slattery suggests there would be substantial savings to our town with no reduction in the quality of service if outsourced to Mercy Flights.
Do we really need our own golf course? It’s lost $1.7 million over the past 10 years. Councilor Rosenthal documented problems with the golf course in a study in 2006 yet failed to take any action after he was elected to city council. And we could go on.
Including an award-winning park system, these strategic investments are essential or important levels of quality and service to citizens.
Here’s the great falsehood – that it’s the citizens of Ashland who have demanded the city own and provide all these services. It’s actually city leaders and staff who made these decisions along the way probably because it’s a natural tendency to want to build empires. People in charge whether in the private sector or government tend to want big staffs and large budgets. Ashlanders know that having our own waste water treatment plant or fiber optic network is not what makes us unique or special.
The next time someone suggests the City is spending beyond its means, ask what specific services should be cut and what infrastructure should be neglected, and let’s examine and debate the ramifications of those cutbacks, both for current and future residents.
And, here’s the second great falsehood – that right sizing our budget and demanding our city leaders become better stewards of our fiscal dollars will somehow lead to a reduction in essential services. A well run fiscally sustainable city government will result in better services at a lower cost.
Cost avoidance for near-term political convenience (such as the propagators of the “Ashland Chronicle”) will only saddle future generations with even larger bills and bigger problems.
Fiscal sustainability – prioritization of services and cost containment – is our ONLY chance to not saddle future generations with larger bills, greater taxes and bigger problems. Is Councilor Rosenthal not aware of the financial crisis we’re in, our structural fiscal deficit, that we’re maxed out on property taxes, that households pay a base fee of $1200 per year before using any water or electricity, that business are stagnating, tourism has peaked, that the Mayor has just proposed three new taxes including a $10.6 million capital project bond for the May ballot? Has Councilor Rosenthal ever voted “no” on a new or higher tax, a hike in utility rates, additional fees or surcharges or even a public works project? We literally can no longer afford his kind of governance.
Let’s not allow short-sighted cynics deal our children and grandchildren a bad hand.
The only bad hands being dealt come from our irresponsible and short-sighted city leaders. It’s time for new leadership. Vote for change in 2020.
Sincerely, Rich Rosenthal
Sincerely, Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability (ACES)