Pay Attention, People, Your Utility Bill is in Grave Danger… AGAIN!

So what else is new? The Ashland Parks and Recreation Department got itself inserted into the agenda for next Tuesday’s Council meeting.  And if we don’t all speak up LOUD and CLEAR, it’s liable to end badly for all of us.

The Ashland Parks and Recreation Committee has previously made several “demands”, later downgraded to “requests”, regarding their funding. Our interim City Manager, Gary Milliman, has made his recommendations to the Council, and on the whole, they are solid and sensible.

He says NO to the idea of allowing APRC to act as it’s own Contract Review Board.

He says NO WAY to the idea of allowing APRC to contract directly with third parties, circumventing Council oversight.

Both of those should be obvious to anyone who has the best interests of the city in mind.  But it’s APRC’s funding mechanism that garners the most discussion, and raises the greatest concerns.

BACKGROUND: The current biennial budget was recommended by the Citizens Budget Committee as written with only one amendment: to reduce expenditures or raise revenues by $1M.  This was the wholly inadequate response to the news that the budget has an overall structural deficiency, and will be in deficit by the end of this budget period.  The shortfall was estimated at $3.5M.  It is a legal requirement that the city budget be balanced.

The obvious answer is to cut expenses… EVERYWHERE POSSIBLE, IN EVERY DEPARTMENT.  This is the task facing the council.  If they can’t cut expenses, they’ll have to raise fees and find other funding mechanisms, since our tax rate is maxed out.

MEANWHILE, APRC is whining about their budget being cut AT ALL.  Instead of thinking of the overall welfare of the city and its residents, it can only think of funding its own projects.  No wonder people accuse APRC of empire building!

APRC has thrown around a lot of misleading figures to try to justify its insatiable appetite for funding.  But here are the facts:  APRC’s budgeted funding for 21-22 is 22.2% greater than it actually spent for 20-21, and its budgeted funding for 22-23 is a whopping 53.6% greater than budgeted for 21-22.  To put it another way, APRC’s budgeted funding for 22-23 is 87.6% greater than their actual expenditures for 20-21.

HOW DARE THEY COMPLAIN ABOUT THEIR FUNDING?  Still, they persist.  They demand a guaranteed level of funding, when the rest of the city is in need of cutting back. 

APR also has very healthy ending fund balances. The graph below shows the growth of the total of the ending fund balances of the three funds that under which APR operates: APR General Fund, APR Capital Improvements Fund, and APR Equipment Fund. As of the last quarterly report, that total stood at $3,934,047.

But all of this is not enough! APRC has got their sights on the Food & Beverage Taxes.  Somehow, they talked the previous Finance Director and City Manager Pro Tem into including a change in the current budget.  They currently get 25% of it, but they want it ALL: 98%, that’s 100% less 2% for the City administering the taxes.  They would take tax money that has been specifically dedicated to Streets funding by an ordinance approved by a vote of the citizens about five years ago.  This ordinance was worded specifically to prevent the use of the FBT for any uses not specified without a confirming vote of the electorate.

So therein lies the rub.  The City Manager wants the Council to consider the level of funding for APRC.  His recommended option is to place the question of dedicating 98% of FBT before the voters next spring.  HOWEVER, he leaves open the option of Council attempting to OVERRIDE the FBT Ordinance with a resolution designed to twist the intent of the FBT Ordinance right now.

THIS MUST NOT BE ALLOWED TO HAPPEN!  If you care about your utility bills, and how they’ve almost doubled in the past ten years, you had best sit up and pay attention, or they’ll be doubling again before you can say “why is it SO expensive to live in Ashland anymore”?  My last “utility bill” included $100.86 of charges before I used one drop of water, before I used even one kilowatt of electricity!  This is how you pay more taxes without being “taxed” more.

TALK to your Councilors.  WRITE to your Councilors.  Sign up to provide testimony at the meeting, if you’re so inclined. Talk to your friends and urge them to do the same.  Tell the Councilors “Just Say No”.  They have the entire city budget to straighten out.  It would be the height of irresponsibility to increase APRC funding without taking the ENTIRE budget into account.

THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO JUSTIFICATION FOR INCREASING APRC FUNDING AT THIS TIME.

The Council meeting is next Tuesday, Sept. 21.  Write to council at council@ashland.or.us

All data is sourced from the 2020 Ashland Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the 2021 Ashland Fourth Quarter Financial Report, the 2021-23 Budget, and my own utility bills.

Dean Silver
Ashland

//inserted by Sharon