Don’t Fall for It!
I lived in Minnetonka, Minnesota before moving to Ashland. One year, the city put a tax levy on the ballot and told the citizens that if it didn’t pass, school buses could no longer take children to and from school.
Though I voted for that tax increase, I learned an important civic lesson – when a city wants more money they will choose the most desired, critical need a community has and then threaten to do away with it if they don’t get the money.
Fast forward to Ashland, Oregon, budget season 2019. What did the city threaten to do away with if they didn’t get an additional taxes or fees? Firefighters. That was a clever choice because with wild fire season coming up, it probably scared everyone half to death.
Is there some direct link between a specific tax or fee on a utility bill and firefighters? Of course not. Three firefighters cost $600 thousand and our proposed annual budget is $127 million. The money could come from anywhere…perhaps the $49 million sitting in ending fund balances? How about selling a couple of our many non-performing real estate assets? Spending cuts can occur anywhere in the budget and should. There is no magical connection between the latest new tax and any specific city employee.
Our city leaders have failed to prioritize spending. They then approve new expenditures when we don’t have money in the budget to cover them. In addition to a bloated budget and structural deficit, we end up with non-essential programs for which we spend millions year after year with no associated performance measurements. We have no idea if they are doing any good and many probably aren’t. Let’s get rid of a few of those programs instead of firefighters!
The moral of this story is…don’t fall for emotionally based revenue appeals from the city. Take the time to dispassionately study the issue, get all the facts and then make sure your conclusions reach our city officials.
Your opportunity to do this is coming up. The mayor has formed a new committee charged with proposing yet new sources of revenue. We understand they will be proposing a tax levy for November to raise more money supposedly for wild fire control and environmental issues. VERY clever.
And, by the way, a friend who lives in Washington D.C. tells me that closing the Washington Monument is always the first thing that comes up there in a budget fight.
Susan T. Wilson
Treasurer, Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability