The following prepared statement was made by Councilor Shaun Moran at the August 16 City Council business meeting:
Having qualified competent staff is an essential part of the framework for ensuring the success of any city – that is especially the case for our small town. Ensuring that staff feel supported, engaged, and have all the tools necessary to do the work at hand to support our citizens is essential. Ensuring staff is being fairly compensated for that work is an important part of the formula for success as well. With what I have seen historically Ashland staff have been incredibly well looked after.
Back just a few years ago during the COVID pandemic when other – I should say most- communities, organizations and even state agencies were looking to furlough staff to meet their reduced revenue expectations the city of Ashland didn’t furlough anyone. No staff were fired, managers even got paid their monthly car allowances to work from home. In fact when you review the 19-21 budget – in that 2nd year – Ashland employees were actually given an increase in compensation. Yes we have looked after our employees.
We all agree that Ashland has dire fiscal issues to address. Adjustments to pay and benefits are needed when it is financially viable to do so but this council is in the midst of addressing a systemic structural deficit due to years of overspending and fiscal mismanagement so how can compensation for staff – the single biggest cost component on the budget – not be seriously looked at and addressed. On the agenda before us tonight “Compensation for Ashland Staff” – actually goes up.
I acknowledge inflation is cutting into real wages but that same inflation is cutting into the real wages of our citizens struggling to pay the bills yet no one seems to care. Will the teachers, seamstresses, day laborers, waiters, tenured professors, bartenders and nurses get an increase so they can continue to live in our town? Data shows that every other home in Ashland is rent or mortgage burdened. Only 25% of people in Ashland can afford to buy a home and live here yet the 21-23 budget shows the average compensation for a Ashland city staff at $150,000 per year. Compare that to the median income of an Ashland family at $50-60k and you understand my point that Ashland has taken care of staff.
The 2021-23 manager’s budget proposed by Adam Hanks and approved by the Council majority (Graham, Jensen, Hyatt, Seffinger) did not include any money for raises this fiscal year putting the city in an extremely difficult situation. I think it is clear this was not only misleading, but incompetent budgeting. The Citizens Budget Committee, the Council and the people of Ashland were clearly duped and we are all paying for that now.
When organizations thrive and prosper all those who contribute to that success reap the benefits; conversely when organizations struggle those who manage need to step up and lead that organization back to success and sustainability. That’s how things work. That said I appreciate management stepping up for their employees demanding they get increases and I agree those folks should be looked after – I will support that – but I think we must hold our management team accountable. Once Ashland is financially back on track we should consider pay and benefit increases for them, but not until then.
In line with what I asked Joe to do last night, we need as a council to understand ALL (Each and Every one) of the services the city provides and the exact personnel needed to deliver those services. Staff needs to follow thru and do a comparative review of compensation by an independent board as requested over 2 years ago by the cost-cut Ad Hoc Committee. That review was unanimously approved and endorsed by the council yet no one did a thing. That needs to be completed immediately.
I’d conclude by acknowledging that we all knew this day was coming, but the city completely failed in planning for it.