Position 5 Comparison of Candidates’ Survey Answers

Ashland City Council Candidates

Position 5:  Candidates – Gina DuQuenne,  Jessica Kensinger

Both candidates returned the questionnaire.  Below is a comparison of their answers to each question on the survey.

  1. The City of Ashland pays 12%of EVERY EMPLOYEE’S SALARYinto PERS.The employee pays 0%into PERS. What is your position regarding this expense to the City?

Gina DuQuenne

            Yes, I would advocate to reduce the City’s 12% PERS.  Under these circumstances living in a pandemic world many things need to be revisited and re-negotiate and this is one of them.

Jessica Kensinger

            The City’s ability to attract and retain qualified employees hinges on its ability to stay competitive with total compensation offered by other cities. On the other hand, employer costs associated with PERS, and particularly Tier 1 employees and the escalating unfunded liability, continue to rise – hence the conundrum.

Given that the economic crisis is hitting cities extremely hard, Ashland will have to consider going away from picking up employees’ required 6-percent PERS contribution (the City is required to pay the other 6 percent). However, because the City has several multi-year Union contracts in place, it is not possible to immediately reduce PERS payments to all employees at the same time. (Once Union contracts are approved, the Union would need to agree to re-open the contract for renegotiation, which is unlikely.) Consequently, the City Council would need to direct staff to include a reduction at the time Union contracts are negotiated to the extent that such an action does not jeopardize Ashland’s ability to recruit and fill critically important positions. This process would begin with a Council directive and would play out over the course of 2-3 years during Union contract negotiations.

The upcoming financial forecast for the 2021-23 budget will dictate to what extent the City Council will need to consider a change in approach to PERS payments.

  1. What is your position regarding the City paying close to 95% of City Employee’s Health Care Premium?

Gina DuQuenne

            Under these circumstances living in a pandemic world many things need to be revisited and re-negotiate and this is one of them.

Jessica Kensinger

            Same issue as above — the City’s ability to attract and retain qualified staff hinges on its ability to stay competitive in compensation and benefit packages with other cities. The cost of health care benefit packages increases every biennium, and most cities are capping the amounts it will pay toward employee benefit packages. Unfortunately, Ashland will have no choice but to reduce health benefit funding in order to have a balanced budget for FY21-23. And again, the scope of reductions will be a central aspect of Union contract negotiations.

3. Would you be in favor of FTE Staff reductions in all departments ( while requiring all departments to maintain full services)?

Gina DuQuenne

    Yes, I am in favor of full time employees reducing their 40 hour week.  However, not necessarily all departments.  Instead of working 5 days a week, work 4 days a week.  Living in a pandemic world sometimes we need to make allowances.  I have been furloughed and, I would not ask anyone to do anything I have not done.

Jessica Kensinger

As a result of the longtime investments in infrastructure and core services we’ve made over the past century, the City should approach the financial situation with a scalpel, not a chainsaw. Should the economic situation worsen, laying off employees should be the last resort in addressing a financial shortfall because, after all, having fewer staff reduces the quality of services Ashlanders need or expect.

Before issuing pink slips to City employees and contributing to our community’s already high misery factor and unemployment rate, the City should pursue intermediate steps like furloughs and voluntary retirement incentives in addition to the existing hiring freezes.

The most expensive services provided by the City – Police, Fire, Parks and Public Works – are critically important to any community because they impact all residents in some way. The best question Ashlanders can ask their elected representives is, “How should we invest the resources we have?” And that decision occurs during the budget process.

  1. What is your position regarding the critical housing demand for AFFORDABLE housing in Ashland?

Gina DuQuenne

I believe that part of the responsibility of the City is to encourage and work with affordable housing developers. Affordable housing developers are eligible to receive tax credits. Also affordable providers can request a property tax exemption from the county as long as they are providing public benefit.  I have been on the Housing and Human Services Commission for the past seven years.  We have done research and  many hours of useful vetting which we have presented to the Council.  I look forward to the Council  being more hands on with all the commissions. 

Jessica Kensinger

The City’s primary role in providing attainable housing for all citizens is to enact policies, development incentives and tactics that encourage development of the type of housing that is deficient. The City is a facilitator in working with the development community and social service non-profits to build low-income housing and provide transitional housing or services that help keep people in their existing homes.

In terms of available City funding, the Community Development Block Grant should be used to provide more transitional housing opportunities. Marijuana tax proceeds, social service grants, and the General Fund to the greatest extent possible, can help local or area organizations (like OHRA) leverage private, state or federal grants that make a positive difference in the lives of citizens facing challenges.

  1. Homelessness remains an ongoing issue here in Ashland. What can we do about it?

Gina DuQuenne

            I believe that the City is reluctant to work with the homeless. There have been missed opportunities for the City to collaborate with other groups and allow our homeless people to be stabled and housed.  I would, and I do advocate for the Hardesty property to be rezoned and ask Jobs with Justice to work with groups like La Clinica, Rogue Retreat and with United Way to create a safe, sustainable place for our homeless residents.

Jessica Kensinger

Overall, the City needs to work collaboratively with other cities and especially Jackson County on a Rogue Valley strategy to address homelessness.  Ashland can’t solve the homelessness crisis by itself. Sadly, because of lack of investment by the Federal and State government, the issue has fallen to local governments and counties to address.

The City Council and Mayor should to address the homeless situation by:

  1. Taking a leadership role in developing a unified Rogue Valley regional approach and investment so that no single community has to shoulder more than its fair share of the burden.
  2. Continue the City’s investment in the County’s “Continuum of Care” program and its improving collaboration of social service providers.
  3. Participate in implementing a crisis response program similar to the successful “COHOOTS” model in Eugene/Springfield. These programs help connect people in need with the services
  4. Maximize the City’s allocation of CDBG grant funds to create transitional and low-income housing.
  5. Increase support for Ashland’s own OHRA program.
  6. Find reasonable locations for car camping and “tiny home” villages.
  7. Other strategies to come.

6. Moving Ashland toward an engaged City Council and Citizenry what would you do?

Gina DuQuenne

I am an engaging person.  Being a City Councilor is being of service to my constituents inside and outside of Council Chamber.  I align myself with the people of Ashland.    I am a very good listener.  When I listen to you I hear your concerns, and together we move toward the solution, and we get things done.

Jessica Kensinger

These are difficult, transformative times for Ashland as decades-old industries clash with the challenges of a new millennium. To maintain our distinctive culture while remaining a vibrant, dynamic community requires a leader who will listen to her constituents, learn about the specific challenges facing individuals, and vigorously pursue policies that embrace new ideas while also respecting the distinct history of the town.

Fresh minds are a key component in creating sustainable communities that develop into the future. I will work hard to get more citizens involved in both the political process and the dynamics of their local neighborhoods. Modern technologies provide new opportunities for connection and feedback beyond what is currently used in Ashland.  I have been a pioneer in using the internet and social media to help foster community and interpersonal communication, and in a fair, theatrical, and monetizable way. I am committed to continuing those efforts, providing an open and accessible door at city hall, and building capital for the benefit of community stakeholders. 

(I am the kind of listener that records, transcribes, and keeps coming back.)

A copy of their survey submission follows in the next post without the comparison.

//inserted by Sharon