Mayor About Town
Julie Akins

When people ask me how things are going lately, I answer it this way–“Really good. I’m hopeful. The tide is turning.”

I think this after three major recent convening of council meetings: one with business leaders the other with council and staff to look at our city’s finances.

We met with business leaders who told us we need to fix “a culture of no” and instead embrace business growth where it makes sense and create more housing indexed to the pay of workers.

They expressed that employers who pay living wages are valuable to the stability of our community. If these folks live in Ashland, their money stays here and that helps everyone, including restaurants, shops and entertainment businesses.

And these business leaders also spoke of truly affordable housing because it means the people who work for them can live here. That also contributes to the overall income of Ashland. Neighborhoods come back to life for the long term.

The business community agrees, much of the council agrees, the city manager agrees and so do I. We all sat in that room listening to each other. That’s how hope grows.

Then the following week we listened to the city manager and each other as a council on what the best and brightest ideas might be for fixing our budget and casting an eye toward a future of realizing our goals of fiscal responsibility, affordable housing, equity, climate adaptability, and living wage job growth.

To be clear, the council votes aren’t in and there will be differences of opinion about how to reach these goals–but I’m happy to report they are shared goals. Once we have a clear idea of where we want to go, getting there becomes more imaginable.

Before I served for two years on council and nearly two as mayor, I thought problems were obvious and solutions easy. I was wrong. Yes, problems are plain to see but working with an entire community, with federal, state and local laws and other policy makers who may not have the same world view is not easy. 

Ashland is like other places where our differences are as old as the first communities: on one side those who wish to preserve all the reasons they chose a community and on the other side those who believe change is inevitable and it’s best to adapt to it and even embrace it.

Both are valid. But I believe in the middle way–preserve what works and embrace change.

In the end, that’s what we’ll have to do, I firmly believe.

That looks like carefully planning out our responses to climate but it won’t look like stopping all growth. We cannot do that. There are people who live here and work here and need to be able to have a roof over their heads. It’s hard to believe that we don’t have that now–but we don’t.

Half of Ashland lives at or below the poverty line. The owner of educational toy manufacturer Blue Marble told the group when we met that a city staffer told him if he wanted to expand he should move to Medford. I say no, let’s help him stay here with his jobs and his business which supports many businesses. Let’s vow to never say that again.

And we need to get our budget under control. Our City Manager, Joe Lessard, presented numerous options for cost savings and some other clever ideas to achieve our goals. Others will offer you the precise figures, I have a book of them too, but should we proceed with his plan we will solve the deficit, the lack of a real reserve fund and we’ll start the next budget cycle with a solid beginning balance.

I’ve expressed to the city manager that I see some cost of living increases suggested for our utility bills and the fees attached to them and I’m absolutely opposed. People already at the poverty line, half of our town, cannot go another step. So we’ll see how that goes.

Every idea may not make it through this vote but Lessard’s ability to put all the pieces together makes me feel very hopeful and so does the city council’s diligence in seeking answers.  And the ability of this community to engage has always informed me that I’m home.

Hold on Ashland–there will be more good times are ahead.