With the city of Ashland unable to raise the property tax rate any further and growing public opposition to continued utility rate increases, Mayor John Stromberg has been holding private meetings with city councilors, former Mayor Cathy Shaw, bond counsel or others about ways to increase city revenues.
These closed-door meetings, city officials say, have been held instead of the appointment of the revenue enhancement ad hoc committee that would be required under state law to meet in public. The idea of a public ad hoc revenue raising committee was proposed by Councilor Rich Rosenthal at the Citizens Budget Committee’s meeting on May 22. It was approved by a vote of 13 to 0 by the committee.
On June 4, the City Council voted 5-1 to set up the public committee, along with a separate committee to review city spending.
On July 8, the council approved the spending review committee’s guidelines and on Aug. 6 confirmed the appointments to the group, which was been meeting twice a month throughout the fall in public.
City officials contend that at the July meeting the mayor said he wanted to proceed with private discussions on the revenue side, which City Attorney David Lohman ruled would not be subject to state open meeting requirements. Minutes of that meeting, however, make no mention of this discussion.
Subsequently, no public ad hoc revenue committee was created, even though both the Budget Committee and the council had approved it.
If, as expected, a special levy of some sort is proposed by the mayor and some members of council as a result of these closed-door meetings, will Ashlanders go along? We’ll see.
David Runkel, Citizen Budget Committee member