City Hall Tidbits
By David Runkel

Council Facing Major Decisions on Anti-Camping Ordinance

A rewrite of Ashland’s anti-camping law is back before Ashland’s City Council this week without several major changes suggested two weeks ago by several councilors, leaving the Council with several contentious matters to resolve. 

One issue is the distance camping would be banned from schools, childcare centers, designated shelters and the I-5 freeway interchange in South Ashland.  Two weeks ago, Councillor Dylan Bloom urged adoption of Medford’s ban of 500 feet, instead of the 250 feet in the draft Ashland ordinance.  

While providing a map showing that Bloom’s proposal would substantially increase the no-camping rules along Siskiyou Boulevard and East Main Street southeast of Mountain Avenue,  the 250-foot provision was unchanged in the ordinance up for first reading Tuesday night. 

A second open issue is whether to exclude camping in all city parks, as suggested by several councilors, or just in Lithia park and parks with playgrounds as in the suggested new ordinance now.

The new draft also leaves open the designation of South Ashland and the Greenway as “enhanced law enforcement areas” where camping would be prohibited and policing enhanced. At present, downtown is the only such designated area in the city.  Councilor Paula Hyatt proposed adding the Greenway while several councilors suggested creating a South designation.  This change, however, probably is best done by amending the ordinance that established the special districts, attorney Douglas M. McGeary indicated.

There is some urgency in updating the city’s law, which Council debated during a two and a half hour study session two weeks ago.  In a memo to Council, McGeary noted that due to federal court decisions and changes in state laws, Ashland “has partially suspended the enforcement of its ordinances that prohibit camping on public property. The suspension remains in effect until the city has fully implemented the requirements mandated by federal case law and these certain protective measures mandated by the state,” he said.

 First Quarter Spending Exceeds Income by $7 million

In reporting the first quarter financial update, Finance Director Mariane Berry told Council that “revenues and expenditures are being incurred as expected” in the $51 million budget adopted in June. 

Revenues were just under $5 million, while expenditures were $12 million.  A large portion of city revenue is received in the second quarter when property tax collections are booked.   The quarter report did show a slight decline, $126,000, in tax revenues compared to first quarter last year, while fine income was up $32,000 and investment income increased $83,000.  Charges for services, such as water, sewer and electric, were down $2.4 million.  Berry did not offer an explanation for the sharp decline.

Meanwhile, expenses for most departments were up over last year, partially because health benefits costs were spread across all departments. Previously they were accounted for in a separate fund. This does not fully explain, however,  the nearly half million dollar increase in the Administration Department. The Parks Department showed the biggest decline in spending, down nearly $250,000. 

All departments showed spending less than a quarter of the budgeted amounts for the year, but city savings (ending fund balances) dropped $4.8 million to $16.9 million.

The 2024 fiscal year budget foresees spending just over $51 million, compared to $42.8 million last year.  Berry noted, however, that the annual audit is currently being conducted and that “our financial statements and activity ending June 30, 2023 have not been finalized or published. As such, the beginning balances of these first quarter financials are subject to changes for any audit-period adjustments.”

 Volunteers Wanted for Advisory Committees

Ashland has put out a call for persons to serve on five committees that advise the Council and city administration on a variety of issues from climate to art to historic preservation.

To volunteer contact city recorder Alissa Kolodzinski at 541-488-5317.

Current vacancies exist on the following committees – Climate and Environmental Policy, Historic Preservation, Housing and Human Services, Public Art and Social Equity and Racial Justice.

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