I’m Voting “NO” on Both Parks Ballot Measures

This year’s election ballot includes two ballot measures related to the management and funding of Ashland’s park system: Ballot Measures 15-210 and 15-211.

Many Ashlanders have asked me about my position on these measures.

Here’s my take.

Note: I decided to vote “No” on both ballot measures early on, and my stance is unchanged. The October Sneak Preview article did not accurately state my position, and I have asked the publisher to correct the record in the next issue.  

  1. I will vote “NO” on Ballot Measure 15-210
  2. I will also vote “NO” on Ballot Measure 15-211
  3. Do I favor an independent Parks and Recreation District?
  4. Examples of Independent Districts in Oregon
  5. My Bottom Line

I will vote “NO” on Ballot Measure 15-210

Question: Shall Ashland amend its City Charter to delegate all authority to appoint, supervise, and remove employees to the City Manager?

I’ll vote no because I don’t think the ballot measure is asking the right question. 

A century ago, Ashland established an independent governance structure and funding for our parks. The Parks Commission lost its earmarked levy in the mid-1990s because of statewide ballot initiatives, and we muddled through instead of asking Ashland voters then if they wanted to create an independent Parks District to mimic the old arrangement. We voted in 2020 for a strong City Manager form of government, explicitly exempting management of staff in the parks and recreation department. Today, our separately elected Parks and Recreation Commission still has the mandate to manage our parks and recreation programs, and it must compete for funding with Police, Fire, and general administration, so it’s not surprising to see a tug-of-war when budgets get tight. 

As I’ve talked with people around town, I hear frustration with some of the management decisions in Parks and Recreation, which is also an implicit criticism of the Commission’s oversight. I get that, but I don’t think further muddying management responsibility for parks and recreation programs will fix the problems people cite. It will only add further complexity to an already muddy situation.

The right question is whether Ashland voters want an independent parks district akin to what we had before or if we’d prefer to fold everything into the City’s structure and budget. Let’s have a thorough presentation of the pros and cons of each option and then a clear vote next May.

I will also vote “NO” on Ballot Measure 15-211

Question: Shall the Ordinance be amended to dedicate a portion of revenues to general government services and extend the sunset date?

I will vote against this ballot measure.

As a member of the Citizens Budget Committee, I voted with the majority to dedicate 98 percent of the meals tax to parks. I was persuaded it makes sense to use variable receipts from the meals tax to fund a substantial portion of parks’ expenses, which are more capable of flexing when receipts are down. This frees more of the City’s most stable source of revenue (property taxes) to fund Fire, Police, and General Administration expenses, which can’t flex much. There was some discussion in the committee about whether making this change would require a ballot measure, and we were advised it was not necessary. On this basis, the City Council endorsed this approach and approved the 2021-2023 biennial budget without putting the use of food and beverage tax proceeds on the ballot.

Ballot Measure 15-211 has the virtue of ensuring that proceeds from the meals tax can be used for general operations of our parks and not only for capital investment. Nevertheless, I will vote against the measure because I think we need to consider the tax as part of a broader solution to the City’s budget equation, which we know will require deeper structural changes. Like Measure 15-210, I think Measure 15-211 is a distraction that will not do much to address the real problem ahead of us, and I hope for a vote in May 2023 on the real question we need to decide.

Do I favor an independent Parks and Recreation District?

At this point, I have an open mind about whether we should have an independent Parks and Recreation District. I think voters should decide.

It’s important to note that the 2020 ballot measure that established the City Manager as Chief Executive Officer of our municipal corporation explicitly excluded placing the Parks and Recreation Department under the City Manager’s supervision.

I feel strongly that Ashland voters deserve to see a thorough analysis of all the implications if they consider another important structural change to our City’s governance. And let’s face it – that’s what this is. 

Examples of Independent Districts in Oregon

As I see it, our REAL choices are: 

Option 1: Form an independent parks district with its own levy, reporting to an elected Parks and Recreation Commission: A ballot measure to do this should be clear about the tax incidence of this option (who pays and how much) and what it will mean for our Parks and Recreation services.  

Option 2: Place the Parks and Recreation Department under the direction of the Ashland City Manager with Parks funding continuing to come from the City’s General Fund at a level approved by the City Council. Under this option, the elected Parks Commission should be eliminated because it would no longer have a useful role

Frankly, I want to see all the pros and cons fully laid out before I vote on one of these options. I’d want to know how much each option is likely to cost taxpayers, as well as the implications for our Parks and Recreation services and other City services funded by the General Fund.

In weighing these options for future governance and funding
of our Parks and Recreation system,
I would be very focused on their impact on our lowest income households.

I would want to explore whether a Parks levy could take a progressive approach such as exempting the first $100,000 of residential properties’ assessed value or are there other alternatives that could achieve the same objective?

If I’m elected to the Council, I’ll work with my colleagues to insist that we put the “right” question before the voters. Whenever we bring a ballot measure to the voters, we should clarify the options and provide clear supporting analysis of the pros and cons so voters have all the facts on the table. 

My Bottom Line

Let’s allow Ashland voters to vote on the real question: do we want to manage and fund our Parks and Recreation system inside our General Administration with our General Fund budget or separate it out.

Voters deserve to have the details, and I trust them to make a decision that’s right for our community.