Ashland vs. the Poor

Jason Houk, 25.04.2003 01:20

Ashland Oregon is a community that prides itself on its diversity. This tolerance does not include financial diversity however. In the battle of Ashland vs the poor, it is the poor that lose every time.
Ashland, Oregon is a community that prides itself on its diversity. This tolerance does not include financial diversity however. In the battle of Ashland vs the poor, it is the poor that lose every time. The community has a goal to encourage low-income housing and outreach but despite this commitment, very little has been done to address the problems. (1) In some cases, Ashland had passed Draconian laws directed against the homeless, an example being the ban on camping within the city.

In the heart of Southern Oregon is thriving, economically diverse region that is struggling to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. In Ashland, tourism constitutes a critical part of the local economy. As home of the world-renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the city attracts nearly 125,000 visitors each year. Still, while tourism does provide the city with regular revenues, it does not provide many new opportunities for employment. In July 2001, it was noted that 43% of Ashland households were below the median income. In Ashland real family-wage jobs are the exception and only guaranteed for the city employees.

Local and State government have failed to properly fund and prepare local services for current economic crisis. During the nation’s economic slump, the region witnessed a drop in resources and funding for the social service agencies that provide emergency services such as food and shelter; services for victims of abuse and neglect; alcohol and drug treatment services; physical or mental health care; and legal or public safety services. With rapidly declining government funding the needs of local agencies will only get worse. (2)

Ashland’s revenue plan subsidizes property owners and businesses at the expense of the rest of the community. Unlike most cities in the U.S.., the City of Ashland owns its own utilities. With control of these resources, Ashland has institutes a highly regressive tax system that unfairly burdens students, renters and those with low income. These households are subsidizing department transfers, salaries and pet projects. The Electric Users Tax and the Food and Beverage Tax and two examples of taxes that burden lower incomes.

Ashland’s revenue is primarily collected from fees paid for services. (3) Charges for services account for 60% of anticipated revenues. This year, expected fee increases include a 3 percent increase for cable TV fees, a 5 percent increase for water fees, 6 percent increases for transportation and storm drain utility fees, a 7.5 percent increase in electric rates, a 10 percent increase in building fees and a 30 percent increase in the city’s electric surcharge. (4) These fees are used to finance many projects and employee wages. Many positions were transferred to departments just so their paychecks can come from the Electric Dept. budget. (5)

Despite the huge raises in property values, property taxes account for 8% of the current revenue and will drop further with approval of the 2004. Ashland’s build-friendly government encourages unsustainable growth and development. There is little respect for traditional neighborhoods or historic buildings if it interferes with the developer’s wants. Ashland is a community that has plenty of available housing for upper income people and virtually nothing available for lower income people. Ashland has plans for creating an affordable housing trust fund, but has not provided the initiative for a viable plan, or the financing to make a viable plan work. (6)

Ashland’s community-developed assets are used as tools for bringing in revenue. Not for community enhancement or development. For example, Ashland built it’s fiber-optic ring with an initial focus on improving the efficiency of city utilities. The local government is among the most “wired” in the nation. Unfortunately the lack of any long term planning and oversight has allowed AFN’s budget to balloon beyond economic feasibility. (7) Information knowledge, expertise and technology is currently concentrated among the developers and adapters who already have the financial means and people resources to access and use them. Competition has been squeezed out of most city contracts and projects thanks to the cozy relationship between AFN and local vendors. (8) AFN’s profit motivation hinders the research and development of new tools. (9) Despite a commitment to providing the network for community service, AFN fails to get technology and support to those who can use it most. As it currently stands AFN’s current business plan focusing primarily on revenue generation and little emphasis placed on creating quality content or usability. Furthermore, AFN has yet to finance the support staff, education and outreach programs that allows the community greater access. (10)

Ashland City Administrator Gino Grimaldi calls the proposed 2003-2004 budget a “take-a-deep-breath-type budget…” For Ashland’s struggling poor, its a take your breath away budget. Ashland has a grand opportunity to lay the foundations for a prosperous and secure future for all. Real sustainable economic growth and security will come from expanding economic security to all parts of society. Unless we take steps to assure that Ashland is a community for the less affluent as well as the more affluent population, this town will lose its sense of community and inclusion. This may even mean living up to our own stated values. Our quality of life is directly related to our ability to assure that all of Ashland’s residents can continue to live here.(11) Support transferring some funds to the needy is a good start. (12) The city must provide more help to community groups and non-profit organizations and address the issues where need is greatest. Reduce the tax burden of regressive taxes and insure that economic and educational resources are available to those who can most benefit from them.

FOOTNOTES

1) Having poor people on the books allows Ashland to receive Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) from the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Ashland has included low-income housing as a priority in 2001-2002 Strategic Priorities Plan and also in the 2000-2004 CDBG Consolidated Plan.

2) Long term effects of the housing problem: * Loss of families * Dwindling school enrollments * Reduction of Budget * Loss of skilled employees * Loss of tax base * Increased traffic/commuters

Hard times weigh on essential services – April 19, 2003
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2003/0419/local/stories/07local.htm

3) According to the Oregon Center for Public Policy, the poorest Oregonians are paying the highest percentage of their income in taxes. Ashland’s revenue is primarily collected from fees paid for services.
Charges for services account for 60% of Ashland’s evenues. –

Ashland 2002-2003 Total Budget – $91,775,514
Utility Fees $20,630,980 Non-Utility Fees 10,217,375 Utility User Tax $2,075,000

4) If the 2003-2004 budget is approved as proposed, residents will see a slight drop in the property tax rate, which is estimated for 2004 at $5.34 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Source: Ashland spends down reserves
 http://www.dailytidings.com/2003/news0422/042203n2.shtml

5) The Electric User Fee is being used to fund projects beyond the scope of reason. Funding of Public Works, Conservation and Administration personnel comes from electric rates.

Source: Electric/Telecommunications/Computer/AFN genda – April 25, 2002
 http://www.ashland.or.us/PrintContentView.aspID=772&Agenda=True

6) HUD gives CDBG $225,000 for programs focusing on low income housing. No one really knows what to do with this money, it has been allocated for sidewalk projects and other urban renewal programs

In July 2001, the council approved $30,000 for the city’s housing commission to hire a consultant for a housing opportunity study. The Ashland Community Land Trust received $15,000 to fund Resource Assistance
for Rural Environment (RARE) graduate intern from the University of Oregon for support work.

When the issue came up again in December 2001, the city authorizes the hiring of a consultant to devise a plan for adoption in early 2002. In 2002 the issue was again put on hold.

7) AFN monthly operating expenses have dramatically jumped. We should see a reduction in operating costs now that the last of the cable is in place. In actuality, the budget has skyrocketed. In recent months the electric department have transferred more personnel and city assets over to their department. Electric dept. now finances staff for Conservation,
Public Works, Administration and Police Services Furthermore, AFN’s 15-year debt plan insures that Electric dept. will have lots of funds to manipulate.

8) Relationship is to close between AFN and the primary benefactors of the network. – Project A is enjoying a privileged position as the primary contractor of AFN projects. This is a position that they don’t want to see changed.

Ashland will pay Project A and its vendors over $40,000 just for upgrading the administrations network’s operating system. Ashland should investigate the true benefits and limitations of their software investments

Also, the City has placed a moratorium on the number of AFN providers, thus stifling competition and creating an environment that limits benefits to local users. (CDBG page 133)

9) For most businesses in the Rogue Valley, AFN is expensive and undervalued. There is no incentive and very little support for traditional businesses that want to use the Network to increase sales. Furthermore, high tech businesses have been squeezed out of most city contracts and projects thanks to the cozy relationship between AFN and Project A Despite a commitment to Community Service AFN fails to get technology to those who can use it most. Economic growth does not help the poor. Economic growths wont cure everything. It won’t turn low-skilled workers into engineers or technicians, mend broken homes or
eradicate crime. It is in the field of Education that AFN fails the most. Most educators don’t have the training and skill to take advantage of network. Also AFN has failed to provide the support and tools that were promised.

10) Lack of Innovation and Long-Term Vision – AFN has not established any new innovations or revenue sources beyond local subscriptions. The financial plan does not even see a profit for 15 years, and even then the
profit margin is a measly 1.5 million a year. It it obvious that AFN management lacks the vision to make AFN profitable beyond their subscription goals. Pay-Per-View Purchases make up 50% of the monthly revenue stream AFN Programming now offers six pornography channels adult titles which make up roughly one-third of the monthly pay-per-view purchases, It is crucial for AFN to increase the number of users to the network if it hopes to build value into the network. Real sustainable economic growth and security will come from expanding the information revolution to all parts of society. It is the creation of quality content that drives growth. Competition is going to increase and it is something that AFN must get use to. In the near future, wireless services threaten to make AFN obsolete.

Source: Electric/Telecommunications/Computer/AFN Agenda – April 25, 2002
 http://www.ashland.or.us/PrintContentView.aspID=772&Agenda=True

11) ABOUT AFFORDABLE HOUSING
 http://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=526

12) In 2002, Budget Committee member Russ Silbiger questioned the hierarchy of fund dispersal, proposing another $30,000 be taken from the OSF and chamber share to help some of the more needy groups.

Economic and Cultural Development Grants are generated by Ashland’s hotel and motel tax. In 1997, the city eveloped a formula for dispersing grant money generated by the tax. About 33.3 percent of the tax is given to the city’s grant program. Of that amount, 28 percent is allocated to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 60 percent to the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and the remaining 12 percent to other gencies.

Source: City considers shifting funds to help needy
 http://www.dailytidings.com/2003/news0204/020403n1.shtml

Additional News Links

“We will ask the city to stop doing business with these developers … Every time they bring a evelopment to the city hoping to make a lot of money, we’re going to be there to remind people what happened with the Lower Pines.” ~ Oregon Action Director Rich Rohde

* In November 2001, the residents of the park’s 10 mobile homes were given $100-a-month rent increases, followed by 365-day notices of eviction a month later, causing an upswelling of protest. A deal fell through to sell the land for the affordable housing project, shortly after the initial 365-day eviction notice period ran out.

 http://www.dailytidings.com/2003/news0201/020103n2.shtml

Homeless folks protest Ashland’s camping ban
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2003/0226/local/stories/06local.htm

Is Ashland losing its diversity? Jan-13-2002
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2002/january/011302n3.htm

Tenants buy some time for relocation
“This gives them a little more time to work on relocation plans…”
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2003/0214/local/stories/09local.htm

New RVTV center displaces three families
“Indeed, three families are impacted, and it’s hurtful to them … We’re very concerned about that.”
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2003/0210/local/stories/05local.htm

City of Ashland’s – About Affordable Housing
 http://www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=526

Ashland low-cost housing lagging – April 04, 2002
Study: Sales, rental trends scale high at cost of diversity –
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2002/april/042002n1.htm

Affordable housing dwindles – March 26, 2003
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2003/0326/local/stories/01local.htm

Ashland targets affordable housing – June 7, 2002
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2002/0607/local/stories/05local.htm

Ashland low-cost housing lagging Apr-20-2002
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2002/april/042002n1.htm

Buying first home grows harder May-15-2002
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2002/may/051502n2.htm

Ashland seeks to balance parks, housing needs
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2002/0922/local/stories/05local.htm

Ashland housing proposal gets tepid reception
 http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2002/1211/local/stories/09local.htm

“Declining school enrollment that could be partly attributed to a lack of affordable housing prompted the school board to approve closing Briscoe Elementary School…”

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One response to “Ashland vs. the Poor

  1. Hi all. Cool site Google
    Thank.

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