October 15, 2022
The Ashland Chronicle recently sent a questionnaire to all candidates for Ashland City Council. Candidates were asked to respond to four questions by Friday October 14, limiting responses to 250 words or less. The Chronicle has stated that it will post the answers, unedited, unless answers exceed 250 words for each question.
- What stand do you take on Ashland’s Ballot measures? Explain your stance. (250 words for each measure)
- How are you going to make it more possible for folks who work in Ashland to live in Ashland?
- Do you believe the city budget is in trouble and if so what will you do about it? If you don’t believe the budget is in trouble, please explain why it is not in trouble.
- What question do you wish folks were asking that they aren’t asking? Explain why it is important to your campaign.
Here’s how Bob answered the questionnaire.
What stand do you take on Ashland’s Ballot measures? Explain your stance. (250 words for each measure)
Ballot Measure 15-210, Ashland’s Charter: 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.
Ballot Measure 15-211, Ashland’s Food & Beverage Tax Ordinance: Shall the Ordinance be amended to dedicate a portion of revenues to general government services and extend the sunset date?
I will vote against the 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.
How are you going to make it more possible for folks who work in Ashland to live in Ashland?
Over the last eight weeks I’ve knocked on almost 3,000 doors across town and had many doorstep conversations with Ashland voters. Affordability is top of mind for many, and I look forward to working with the Council and staff to address this issue in creative ways that work for everyone. We are fortunate to own our utilities because it gives the Council some tools that other cities lack. We already offer low-income households a deep discount for electricity in winter months; I will work to extend this discount to the summer months as well when air conditioning is increasingly necessary for protection against extreme heat and smoke. I will also work to restructure our utility rates. The cost per kWh of electricity or cubic foot of water should be as low as possible for a reasonable base consumption amount, and it should be paid for by increasing rates more steeply on households that consume much more. We need to accompany rate restructuring with a proactive program to swap out inefficient heating and cooling equipment whenever possible and replace them with high efficiency heat pumps, taking advantage of new state and federal programs to reduce installation costs. I am hopeful the City Council will approve an assertive housing production strategy that includes securing existing low-cost housing in our three mobile home parks and exploring innovative approaches to take the high price of land out of the housing equation by expanding our community land trust or adding new ones.
Do you believe the city budget is in trouble and if so what will you do about it? If you don’t believe the budget is in trouble, please explain why it is not in trouble.
The 2021-2023 Biennium Budget proposal presented to the Citizens Budget Committee in Spring 2021 projected General Fund expenses exceeding revenues by the end of the biennium unless the City Council takes action to fix the structural conditions that will lead to the shortfall. I agreed with that assessment, and the Budget Committee recommended that the City Council adopt the proposed 2021-2023 biennium budget with a call to reduce General Fund expenses by $1 million over the biennium. That was intended to be a down payment on further measures to be taken by the Council and staff in time for inclusion in the 2023-2025 biennium budget that will be presented in Spring 2023.
We are fortunate that actual expenses and revenues over the last 18 months have both been more favorable than was projected back in the winter/spring of 2021, which among other things allowed a transfer of $1.7 million from the General Fund into a Reserve Fund that had been nearly empty for years. But that’s no reason for complacency. The City Council still needs to do its job and take up some of the possible structural changes identified in the budget document or identify other possible alternatives that could bring the projected future expense and revenue curves back together. Some of those options may involve Parks and Recreation, which is a further reason why I think the two ballot measures 15-210 and 15-211 are premature.
What question do you wish folks were asking that they aren’t asking? Explain why it is important to your campaign.
I wish folks would ask, “What more can I do to help our community and bring us all together?” Ashlanders are amazingly generous and volunteer so much of their time and resources to our community. I see and feel inspired by many examples of this every day. But I’m afraid the pandemic and stresses of the last couple of years have also fueled divisiveness, rancor, snark, and cynicism. I see it on social media, and also in the real world in how folks drive or treat people around town. We can all do a little more for our community, and be a little more gracious with each other. I’d like to join with the rest of our elected officials and City staff to invite everyone to participate in creating our very best Ashland. I appreciate the Ashland Chronicle’s question, which also asks me to explain why it’s important to my campaign. Well, my campaign is about appreciating our community and every one of us who helps make it a better place for all of us to live and work and play. I ask the readers of the Ashland Chronicle to consider my long record of public service fighting poverty and environmental degradation, along with my volunteer service in Ashland and ideas for helping our community thrive when you vote in the coming weeks. Please vote for me for Council position #4. www.BobKforAshland.com.