Opinion: “If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Out of the Kitchen”
I am writing in response to Councilor Stephen Jensen’s Guest View in the 5/9 issue of the Mail Tribune.
The finance department of Ashland has made it clear the city budget is in crisis, and will be running in the red within two years if the current trajectory is not modified. Ashland cannot wait to solve its budget problems. The only reason it will remain balanced for the next two years is the infusion of federal relief funds. The city is required by law to operate with a balanced budget. There are only three ways to do that: cut expenses, raise revenues, or raid the fund balances that are earmarked for maintenance of infrastructure, which would be of questionable legality.
The city has estimated that $134,821,994 will be required in just the next five years to meet the city’s capital improvements (infrastructure) needs. The city has so far set aside approximately $50,000,000 to meet those needs including emergency funding needs. Meanwhile, the city staff is recommending a $348,572,850 budget for the next two years.
The property tax rate in Ashland is at the legal maximum. The rates that residents pay for utilities have risen approximately 90% over the past 10 years. The taxes and utility fees are driving lower income residents out of the city, and putting a huge burden on other taxpayers. Revenue increases cannot possibly cover the shortfall. And the city cannot afford to spend another penny of those infrastructure funds that it has been amassing for essential maintenance. The only reasonable option is to cut expenses.
Mr. Jensen correctly comments on the wonderful amenities in the city of Ashland. But he does not address the problem: how do we afford this? He contends that “we have cut all of the low hanging fruit in our budget and operations”. I challenge him to justify that statement. The fact is, the proposed budget is 18% higher than the actual and adopted budget for the previous biennium ($295,481,055). He claims falsely that city staff has been reduced by 23%. That number has no basis in fact whatsoever, as evidenced in a comparison of the proposed budget to the last adopted budget.
Many taxpayers in Ashland have been making suggestions to the Citizens Budget Committee and City Council since before and during the budget hearings. So far, those suggestions seem to have fallen on deaf ears. Mr. Jensen urges “all the folks out there who have such great ideas and life experience to run for office”. What he doesn’t seem to understand is that we live in a representative democracy. That means we elect officials to represent us, to make those tough decisions that are necessary to make government and life in our communities work. We don’t elect them to complain about how difficult that job is.
These are indeed difficult choices, but they must be made. Ashland is deep in a fiscal emergency. If Mr. Jensen does not understand that it is his responsibility as a city Councilor to make those decisions, then he should not hold that position. If he is unwilling or unable to make those choices, he should not hold that position. If he does not understand how a representative democracy works, he should not be a representative of the citizens. He has demonstrated with his own words that he is unfit for that office.
I respectfully suggest that Mr. Jensen resign his position as city Councilor immediately, for the sake of the City of Ashland and its citizens. Let someone who is willing and able to make those tough decisions do the job. This is not a matter of “blood-sport” as he imagines, but a matter of the survival of our city.
Dean Silver, Ashland