George Kramer Hits The Nail on the Head, Again – Frugality for the Ashland Budget!

Frugality. George Kramer’s statement to the Citizens Budget Committee, March 30.

Today’s word is frugality. In case you are unfamiliar, it’s a noun, defined as “The quality of being economical with money. It means to being thrifty. You need to be frugal. You need to freeze, or even better CUT spending.

Staff and the Transportation Commission may be telling you there has never been a better time to transform Walker into a “Festival Street,” that we risk our lives driving 21 mph, or you should pay 20% in project design fees to reopen small wood buildings, but the simple fact of the matter is that you need to stop spending money we don’t have and spend the money we do have wisely.

People all over Ashland, daily, are making hard choices about how to stretch their funds in this weird economy. Be like people all over Ashland. Be like people who, unlike the City, can’t raise revenue with a simple vote that forces others to pay the bill. It is tone deaf and more than a little rude for the City to even consider new fees and rate increases at this time.

Today we’ve heard a lot about “Structural Imbalances in the General Fund.” In English that means you are spending more money than you take in. There are several ways to solve that. You can raise more money, which seems to be the Ashland strategy, paired with raiding our reserves, which we also seem to be pretty good at. But there’s a 3rd way. It’s called freezing or cutting spending. You can do that. Most everyone in town has been doing it for a year. Staff mentions “Revenue Opportunities.”

Let me be clear. You have to stop solving the city’s spending problems with utility increases. It’s the most regressive form of taxation imaginable. I get that nobody likes to reduce staff or delay projects. I’ve told most of you before that Ashland must learn to live within its means. This is a time to make hard choices and establish priorities between the city’s needs and its wants. You need delay all your wants and probably some of the needs unless you can cut current spending to pay for them.

We talk about regulated activities. You need to look at salaries and benefit packages. The current staff compensation, which is the largest component of the budget, is simply not sustainable. It’s fine treating people well, but we’re a small town of 21,000 people. Yes, we are fairly affluent, but there is a limit to what we can afford. You can’t burden the citizens to so generously benefit staff. That’s not the way this works.

I hope you remember that while you represent the Ashlanders with trust funds, good paying jobs, or comfortable pensions, folks for whom $12 a month is just another latte, you also represent struggling business owners, service workers, seniors on fixed incomes and people who’ve seen their housing costs soar, people for whom $12 a month means no food or gas at the end of a pay period. I don’t care that “interest rates are at an all-time low.” If you think you have a solid plan for a necessary expense, something that deserves “Debt Financing,” then ask us voters to approve a bond to pay for it.

Don’t foist dreams off on us with a simple four votes at Council. That may be legal but it’s hardly ethical. I think it might be recallable. If you can’t live within our means, if you’re unwilling or just too timid to make hard choices in these hard times, then resign. Let somebody else with more fortitude do it. You asked for this authority. You ran for election. You sought appointment.

The citizens of Ashland, the ratepayers of Ashland, need you to do your job wisely, with thriftiness. We need you to put the Citizens, not the city, not the staff, first. I’ll be watching to make sure that you act in a frugal manner. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.