Watch Your Wallets, Ashlanders! Your Utility Rates Are About to Go Up! January 2 & 16 at Council Chamber

Watch Your Wallets, Ashlanders! Your Utility Rates Are About to Go Up!

The City’s insistence on hiring five additional police officers is wholly unsupported by its own data. In response to a public records request, the Ashland Police Department provided a summary of Ashland’s Part 1 crimes (e.g. theft, homicide, robbery, burglary, etc.) and Part 2 crimes (e.g., fraud, drug offenses, trespass, etc.) for the period 2015-2016.  While there was an increase in Part 1 crimes between 2015 and 2016 with theft as the major culprit, Part 2 crimes were down over the same period.

According to the Ashland Audit Report for 2016, arrests and traffic violations have been declining for ten years (2007-2016). There were 2,748 arrests in 2007 compared with just 2,042 arrests in 2016, a decrease of 25%. Given this data, it is impossible to justify increasing Ashland’s property taxes and utility rates in order to hire five additional police officers, at a cost of approximately one-half million dollars annually.

According to Ashland’s 2015-17 budget document, the number of behavioral complaints and violations/criminal cases declined significantly through 2014. (The APD did not provide the same detailed data on crimes and violations for 2015-2017 in the 2017-19 budget document, an omission that runs counter to customary practice of many years.) The 2017-19 budget simply states, “A lack of jail space…for some commonly seen criminal and disorderly behavior continue[s] to be a problem for both the APD and most police agencies.”  Does this mean that the APD will next demand funds to build a jail to curtail disorderly conduct?

Paralleling the drop in crime over the past decade, the number of cases heard by Municipal Court is also declining, as are fine collections. As an interesting side note, reported in the 2017-19 budget prepared by the Municipal Court, even though caseload has declined, “…workload for the Court has not decreased…and we have seen an increased load on staff due to the number of mentally ill defendants requiring additional time and resources, despite their inability to pay.”  This data underscores that mental health funding would be the more logical recipient of any increased spending.

Ashland’s ratio of police officers per 1,000 residents is 1:3, the same ratio as in Medford. In Bend, Oregon, also a tourist town, the ratio is 1:1. Springfield’s is 1:2, Gresham’s is 1:2, Beaverton’s is 1:4, and Hillsboro’s ratio is 1:3.  Compared to Ashland, some of these cities experience much higher crime, drug abuse, and gang activity. Ashland, a city of 22,000, is comprised more than most cities of an aging population. This begs the question, what would five additional, highly paid police officers provide that a reserve officer or volunteer force could not?

In 2013, the City of Ashland hired three new officers. In justifying the hiring of five more, the police chief stated that additional police officers are needed for police safety. Yet, according to the chief’s own annual “Use of Force Report,” officers typically suffer only very minor injuries, such as scrapes and bruises. The chief also stated that an additional officer was needed for each and every shift to serve as backup, even though the busiest shifts occur on weekend nights. Police work involves inherent risk, a part of the job that is understood by the force.  Because of this risk, Ashlanders pay a very high PERS rate (projected to be 25% of salary) for police, this on top of their excellent salary and health benefits. In fact, Ashlanders pay 100% of police officers’ PERS and 95% of their health benefits. Salaries and benefits for five more officers will be felt in increased property taxes and higher utility rates.

The city’s own data clearly fails to support the hiring of five additional police officers. The City Council has already levied higher property taxes and fees on citizens for several officers, and the Council will be discussing how to pay for two additional officers at their January 2, 2018 meeting. According to the January 2, 2018 Councilor Business Meeting document, “Staff is recommending an increase to our Public Safety Support Fees of $2 per month on electric meters.”  If you are concerned about the ever-escalating cost of living in Ashland and this added, unjustifiable expense of police officers, please contact the Mayor and City Councilors and offer your views. And plan to attend the January 2 and 16, 2018 city council meetings.

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