Math in Ashland is Complicated

No lay-offs planned at the city

By Julie Akins

For The Ashland Chronicle

We recently reported in error that the City of Ashland is losing $16,500 dollars per month in revenue as a result of the shelter in place order and subsequent business closures due to the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

We apologize for this error.

It was meant to read $16,500 dollars per day. But it turns out that number may also be low. Assistant City Administrator Adam Hanks, when pressed for a number at the City Council Study Session on Monday, estimated the City of Ashland has losses closer to 1.5 million dollars since the order to shutter businesses in mid March.

These losses come primarily from a lack of revenue generated by the Food and Beverage Tax and the Transient Occupancy Tax which is impacted by the fact there are no restaurants or hotels open. In addition utility fees are down and presently uncollectible as shut offs are not allowed during the pandemic.

“I don’t know that we can waive those fees,” said Hanks to the request to allow businesses to keep their collected taxes.

Downtown business owner Andy Card met with Hanks. “He didn’t seem to have compassion for our situation. He said these would have to be “building years.” “

Adding to the frozen economy is the long term pain of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival closing until September. The festival is said to attract 400,000 people during the season according to the Chamber of Commerce. The delay to September will shorten OSF to roughly half of its performance season.

Hanks also addressed the council regarding current staffing at the City of Ashland on Monday when asked if lay-offs are in the plans to address ongoing revenue shortfalls.

“We’re not filling summer jobs and part time positions that may be open.” When asked about lay-offs or furloughs Hanks said they were not being considered at this time and referenced union contracts. City Attorney Dave Lohman supported him in saying the city has a legal requirement to not only keep people on the job but to honor the planned raises and cost of living increases.

But more than half the city staff is not covered by union contracts nor are they “essential workforce.”

The city of Ashland currently has one full time employee for every 78 residents.  The state average is one full time employee for 234 residents.

The City of Ashland currently employs roughly 268 full time workers. 70% earn more than $100,000 annually in compensation, which is more than double the median income of non city workers, according to the city’s latest financial records.  And the majority, according to ACES, (Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability) do not live within the City of Ashland and are less impacted by their decisions, in fact, many are paid a stipend for commuting including Parks Director Michael Black and outgoing City Administrator Kelly Madding.

So while other cities like Portland are tightening their belts, that city laid off 950 employees, the City of Ashland hopes to weather the pandemic without affecting its staff.

If they pull that off they will be the only entity in the community to do so.

Math in Ashland is complicated.

Julie Akins lives in Ashland and is a City Councilor.

//inserted by Sharon