On an 11 to 3 vote, the Ashland Citizens Budget Committee Thursday approved a $383.7 million 2023-25 city budget, up $80.2 million from the current biennial spending plan. While keeping the property tax rate at the current level, the budget increases franchise fees and ambulance services, spends down ending fund balances and makes use of $6.2 million in surplus funds from the current budget.
The general fund, which finances police, fire, community development, finance and overall administration, is $7.1 million out of balance. Expenditures are budgeted at $91.5 million, with revenues of $84.8 million.
Approved were increases in the number of police officers, fire and rescue staffers, administration and finance personnel. New programs to start child care and business assistance programs, revitalize downtown and study economic development, city staff compensation and city revenues were also approved at a cost of nearly $1 million.
The huge increase in the budget, however, is the nearly doubling of construction projects, such as a new water treatment plant now estimated to cost $65 million. Capital outlays go from $67.2 million to $129.3 million.
The Budget Committee’s approved spending plans now goes to the City Council, which is due to vote on it June 20.
During consideration, the Budget Committee voted down proposed amendments to end funding for the Oak Knoll Golf Course, disapprove the hiring of two additional police officers and two Emergency Medical Treatment personnel, end the $1.50 monthly public service fee on utility bills and transfer tourism money from a staff position to the hiring of a professional tourism promotion agency.
The only amendment to the budget proposed by City Manager Joe Lessard approved by the Committee directs the Council to review the possibility of a Charter change to close the Ashland Municipal Court and have traffic fines and city code violations handled by the Jackson County Justice Court which currently serves Talent, Phoenix, Jacksonville, Central Point and Shady Cove.
Voting in favor of the budget were Mayor Tonya Graham, City Councilors Dylan Bloom, Jeff Dahle, Eric Hansen, Paula Hyatt, Bob Kaplan and citizens members Andrew Card, Mike Gardner, Eric Navickas, Shane Hunter and Linda Peterson-Adams. Voting not were Councilor Gina DuQuenne and citizen members Leda Shapiro and David Runkel.