Monthly Archives: May 2003

94167227

Budget approved
By Myles Murphy Ashland Daily Tidings

The Ashland Citizens Budget Committee has approved the city’s 2003-04 budget, voting down two members with serious reservations who opposed the move.

Committee members Dave Williams and Jim Moore did not support the budget, which proposes a more than $5 million drop in ending-fund balances across various departments because the city expects to spend more than it brings in.

“It’s a real concern,” Williams said. “It leaves me wondering about the future.”

The $87.4-million budget passed Thursday on an 11-2 vote. The Ashland City Council will consider the recommended budget next month.

“While we talk (about making cuts) every year, we don’t seem to be reducing the budget,” Moore said.

The projected budget calls for a $478,000 drop in the city’s general fund reserve money, along with decreases in other funds.

The reserves are intended to be used as a cushion when needed, and cities are required to maintain certain reserve levels for just that purpose.

However, at this rate, the city would be facing a significant deficit down the line. City Administrator Gino Grimaldi and Finance Director Lee Tuneberg have been highlighting that point since the start of the process, and assured the committee they will manage the budget as needed in the future to keep it balanced.

The budget assumes a 40 percent increase in PERS costs, a 20 percent hike in health care premiums, along with significant but unknown jumps in wholesale electricity rates.

The budget is $4.4 million smaller than the 2002-203 $91.8 million budget – the last in a long line of ever-increasing budgets.

The drop in the total budget is a little misleading, however, since much of it is attributed to the completion or near-completion of citywide construction projects.

To offset some of the increases, the position of Administrative Services Director has been cut, resulting in significant savings, and proposed positions in the police, fire and other departments have been put on hold this year. A proposed assistant city attorney position was reduced to part time.

On the other hand, the committee decided to put up $133,000 to pay for grounds maintenance in the Ashland School District, taking some pressure off the budget-challenged schools. The committee also shied away from making cuts in grants given to local social service organizations.

“The same time (service groups) are getting cutbacks, the need is growing dramatically,” Committee member Russ Silbiger said. “We need to step up.”

The committee Thursday added another $25,000 to the more than $100,000 it has recommended be given to 13 groups active in the city. The extra funds are a one-year-only grant and will go mainly to Community Works and the Interfaith Care Community of Ashland, which provides homeless services in the city.

“That was really a blessing,” ICCA Executive Director Sharon Schrieber said. “Every time I attend a budget committee meeting, I’m holding my breath.”

The committee also recommended the Ashland City Council re-examine the distribution of hotel-motel tax revenues, with an eye toward reducing the annual increases in funds which go to the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The chamber’s grant alone has grown by $100,000 in four years while most other groups are suffering under state and federal budget cuts.

“(Chamber and OSF grants) have seen such a great gain, I think its a good thing to take another look at the formula,” Ashland Mayor and committee member Alan DeBoer said.

Committee member Alex Amarotico, an Ashland City Council member, was the only one opposed to even looking at the idea.

“I think we need to give OSF and the Chamber credit for what they’re doing that’s working,” Amarotico said.

The committee set property tax rates for 2004 at $3.564 per $1,000 of assessed value, plus another $1.38 per 1,000 of assessed value if the Youth Activities Levy passes in the May 20 election.

Fee increases in the new budget include a 3 percent increase for cable TV fees, 5 percent for water fees, 6 percent for transportation and storm drain utility fees, 7.5 percent in electric rates, 10 percent in building fees and a 30 percent increase in the city’s electric surcharge.

Allen Douma, a syndicated medical columnist who has lived in Ashland for a year, attended each full budget committee meetings – two day-long Saturday meetings and three three-hour Thursday meetings – as well as a few subcommittee meetings. Douma would like to someday join the committee, and he believes the group’s work is reflected in the success of the city.

“I was very impressed with the level of detailed discussion that took place,” Douma said. “It was refreshingly different from other budget meetings I’ve seen.”

94167227

Budget approved
By Myles Murphy Ashland Daily Tidings

The Ashland Citizens Budget Committee has approved the city’s 2003-04 budget, voting down two members with serious reservations who opposed the move.

Committee members Dave Williams and Jim Moore did not support the budget, which proposes a more than $5 million drop in ending-fund balances across various departments because the city expects to spend more than it brings in.

“It’s a real concern,” Williams said. “It leaves me wondering about the future.”

The $87.4-million budget passed Thursday on an 11-2 vote. The Ashland City Council will consider the recommended budget next month.

“While we talk (about making cuts) every year, we don’t seem to be reducing the budget,” Moore said.

The projected budget calls for a $478,000 drop in the city’s general fund reserve money, along with decreases in other funds.

The reserves are intended to be used as a cushion when needed, and cities are required to maintain certain reserve levels for just that purpose.

However, at this rate, the city would be facing a significant deficit down the line. City Administrator Gino Grimaldi and Finance Director Lee Tuneberg have been highlighting that point since the start of the process, and assured the committee they will manage the budget as needed in the future to keep it balanced.

The budget assumes a 40 percent increase in PERS costs, a 20 percent hike in health care premiums, along with significant but unknown jumps in wholesale electricity rates.

The budget is $4.4 million smaller than the 2002-203 $91.8 million budget – the last in a long line of ever-increasing budgets.

The drop in the total budget is a little misleading, however, since much of it is attributed to the completion or near-completion of citywide construction projects.

To offset some of the increases, the position of Administrative Services Director has been cut, resulting in significant savings, and proposed positions in the police, fire and other departments have been put on hold this year. A proposed assistant city attorney position was reduced to part time.

On the other hand, the committee decided to put up $133,000 to pay for grounds maintenance in the Ashland School District, taking some pressure off the budget-challenged schools. The committee also shied away from making cuts in grants given to local social service organizations.

“The same time (service groups) are getting cutbacks, the need is growing dramatically,” Committee member Russ Silbiger said. “We need to step up.”

The committee Thursday added another $25,000 to the more than $100,000 it has recommended be given to 13 groups active in the city. The extra funds are a one-year-only grant and will go mainly to Community Works and the Interfaith Care Community of Ashland, which provides homeless services in the city.

“That was really a blessing,” ICCA Executive Director Sharon Schrieber said. “Every time I attend a budget committee meeting, I’m holding my breath.”

The committee also recommended the Ashland City Council re-examine the distribution of hotel-motel tax revenues, with an eye toward reducing the annual increases in funds which go to the Ashland Chamber of Commerce and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The chamber’s grant alone has grown by $100,000 in four years while most other groups are suffering under state and federal budget cuts.

“(Chamber and OSF grants) have seen such a great gain, I think its a good thing to take another look at the formula,” Ashland Mayor and committee member Alan DeBoer said.

Committee member Alex Amarotico, an Ashland City Council member, was the only one opposed to even looking at the idea.

“I think we need to give OSF and the Chamber credit for what they’re doing that’s working,” Amarotico said.

The committee set property tax rates for 2004 at $3.564 per $1,000 of assessed value, plus another $1.38 per 1,000 of assessed value if the Youth Activities Levy passes in the May 20 election.

Fee increases in the new budget include a 3 percent increase for cable TV fees, 5 percent for water fees, 6 percent for transportation and storm drain utility fees, 7.5 percent in electric rates, 10 percent in building fees and a 30 percent increase in the city’s electric surcharge.

Allen Douma, a syndicated medical columnist who has lived in Ashland for a year, attended each full budget committee meetings – two day-long Saturday meetings and three three-hour Thursday meetings – as well as a few subcommittee meetings. Douma would like to someday join the committee, and he believes the group’s work is reflected in the success of the city.

“I was very impressed with the level of detailed discussion that took place,” Douma said. “It was refreshingly different from other budget meetings I’ve seen.”

94036699

Students oppose Patriot Act

The Southern Oregon University Student Senate passed a resolution vowing non-compliance with the USA Patriot Act – the first resolution in the Oregon University System to challenge the act aimed at fighting terrorism.

Student senators met Tuesday night to discuss the Patriot Act and the implications it carries for the student body. The majority of senators concluded the controversial, Congress-approved act infringes too heavily on the rights of individual students.

According to junior Danielle McNeill, SOU student body president, many students have e-mailed her with concerns regarding the impact the act will have on students.

“It’s a concern and we need to pay attention it,” McNeill said to audience members and senate. “It’s about our civil liberties and our rights as citizens.”

Senators passed the “Resolution of Non-Compliance With the USA Patriot Act” 8 to 3, with senators Jonathan Bilden, Heather Virell and Doug Honse opposing. Eleven of the 20-member senate were present for the motion.

The resolution of non-compliance was pioneered by Peace Club founder Keith Quick, who feels the Patriot Act directly hinders the rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens.

“I’m always concerned with things that undermine the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights,” Quick said.

The Patriot Act was signed into law by President Bush in October 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, granting new powers to both domestic law enforcement and international intelligence agencies to fight terrorism.

Quick said one way the act violates guaranteed rights to privacy is the government’s increased access to personal records.

“Everything that you do on campus is subject to search and that includes the books you check out from the library,” he said.

The act also widens the scope of searches, so long as there is a belief that it’s relevant to an investigation.

“They (the government) no longer have to inform you or notify you that they have a warrant to search your house,” he said.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union Southern Oregon-chapter, Quick drafted a resolution which states campus administration should continue to preserve student freedoms and protect the campus community from unreasonable searches and seizures “even if requested to do otherwise and infringe upon such rights by federal or state law enforcement agencies acting under new powers created by the USA Patriot Act. …”

While many students urged the Senate to pass the non-compliance resolution, Honse, SOU’s housing senator, said he could not support the resolution because he feels the Patriot Act was enacted to protect U.S. citizens from the threat of terrorism, not violate rights.

“I feel the Patriot Act is in place to deter terrorism and prevent it from happening in the first place,” Honse said. “We can sit around and let disaster happen and clean up the mess afterward or we can prevent the mess.”

Honse said his interest was in protecting the safety of all students and that if searches help cut down on the possibility of a terrorist act, students should comply.

“If you don’t have anything to hide, then there shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

Despite the dissent, the motion passed.

Quick said the motion to pass the resolution is just the first step in letting the community know that SOU students are against the act. The next step would be to get the SOU Faculty Senate to pass the resolution and then the university’s workers’ unions.

Paul Copeland, Ashland resident and co-chair of the local ACLU chapter, said SOU senators may pave the way for other universities to pass non-compliance resolutions.

“We (the ACLU) think the resolution is significant because I believe its the first one in Oregon and it may have influence on other campuses throughout Oregon,” Copeland said. “We hope that other schools in Oregon will look to SOU as a model to follow.”

94036699

Students oppose Patriot Act

The Southern Oregon University Student Senate passed a resolution vowing non-compliance with the USA Patriot Act – the first resolution in the Oregon University System to challenge the act aimed at fighting terrorism.

Student senators met Tuesday night to discuss the Patriot Act and the implications it carries for the student body. The majority of senators concluded the controversial, Congress-approved act infringes too heavily on the rights of individual students.

According to junior Danielle McNeill, SOU student body president, many students have e-mailed her with concerns regarding the impact the act will have on students.

“It’s a concern and we need to pay attention it,” McNeill said to audience members and senate. “It’s about our civil liberties and our rights as citizens.”

Senators passed the “Resolution of Non-Compliance With the USA Patriot Act” 8 to 3, with senators Jonathan Bilden, Heather Virell and Doug Honse opposing. Eleven of the 20-member senate were present for the motion.

The resolution of non-compliance was pioneered by Peace Club founder Keith Quick, who feels the Patriot Act directly hinders the rights guaranteed to U.S. citizens.

“I’m always concerned with things that undermine the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights,” Quick said.

The Patriot Act was signed into law by President Bush in October 2001 following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, granting new powers to both domestic law enforcement and international intelligence agencies to fight terrorism.

Quick said one way the act violates guaranteed rights to privacy is the government’s increased access to personal records.

“Everything that you do on campus is subject to search and that includes the books you check out from the library,” he said.

The act also widens the scope of searches, so long as there is a belief that it’s relevant to an investigation.

“They (the government) no longer have to inform you or notify you that they have a warrant to search your house,” he said.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union Southern Oregon-chapter, Quick drafted a resolution which states campus administration should continue to preserve student freedoms and protect the campus community from unreasonable searches and seizures “even if requested to do otherwise and infringe upon such rights by federal or state law enforcement agencies acting under new powers created by the USA Patriot Act. …”

While many students urged the Senate to pass the non-compliance resolution, Honse, SOU’s housing senator, said he could not support the resolution because he feels the Patriot Act was enacted to protect U.S. citizens from the threat of terrorism, not violate rights.

“I feel the Patriot Act is in place to deter terrorism and prevent it from happening in the first place,” Honse said. “We can sit around and let disaster happen and clean up the mess afterward or we can prevent the mess.”

Honse said his interest was in protecting the safety of all students and that if searches help cut down on the possibility of a terrorist act, students should comply.

“If you don’t have anything to hide, then there shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

Despite the dissent, the motion passed.

Quick said the motion to pass the resolution is just the first step in letting the community know that SOU students are against the act. The next step would be to get the SOU Faculty Senate to pass the resolution and then the university’s workers’ unions.

Paul Copeland, Ashland resident and co-chair of the local ACLU chapter, said SOU senators may pave the way for other universities to pass non-compliance resolutions.

“We (the ACLU) think the resolution is significant because I believe its the first one in Oregon and it may have influence on other campuses throughout Oregon,” Copeland said. “We hope that other schools in Oregon will look to SOU as a model to follow.”

94036672

Flag-burning charges dropped

Charges against flag-burner and Ashland activist Ryan Navickas were dropped this morning in Ashland Municipal Court.

Citing a city rule which allows free speech on the Plaza, and the United States Supreme Court determination that flag-burning is a form of speech, Municipal Court Judge Allen Drescher dismissed the case against Navickas, who had been cited for burning a flag in April on the Plaza.

“I think it’s really great,” Navickas said.

“It sets a precedent for the way police handle those expressing their views and its a strong statement in support of the Constitution.”

Navickas had burned a flag in support of two other men arrested April 12 on the Plaza for burning an American flag.

94036672

Flag-burning charges dropped

Charges against flag-burner and Ashland activist Ryan Navickas were dropped this morning in Ashland Municipal Court.

Citing a city rule which allows free speech on the Plaza, and the United States Supreme Court determination that flag-burning is a form of speech, Municipal Court Judge Allen Drescher dismissed the case against Navickas, who had been cited for burning a flag in April on the Plaza.

“I think it’s really great,” Navickas said.

“It sets a precedent for the way police handle those expressing their views and its a strong statement in support of the Constitution.”

Navickas had burned a flag in support of two other men arrested April 12 on the Plaza for burning an American flag.

94036573

AFN numbers continue to cause concern

By Myles Murphy Ashland Daily Tidings

The Ashland Citizens Budget Committee has given initial approval of the proposed Ashland Fiber Network 2003-04 budget, but not without misgivings.

Committee members and residents came down hard on AFN numbers Saturday at the full committee’s third meeting on the proposed $87.3 million Ashland city budget.

AFN critic and Ashland resident Jack Blackburn suggested the city get off the AFN bandwagon before its interfund and capital loans – expected to hit about $14 million by June 2004 – overwhelm the city.

Blackburn said he believes technological changes will make the system out of date before it’s even finished, saddling the city with huge debt payments without offsetting revenue.

“Even a rat has the sense to jump off a sinking ship,” Blackburn said during the committee’s public comment time Saturday.

Ashland Electric Department Director Dick Wanderscheid defended AFN’s outlook, adding that the fiber network is nearly hitting expectations in the current plan.

“I’m not that concerned about technological changes making AFN obsolete,” Wanderscheid said. “If we had the customers we lost because they left town or went out of business, we’d be pretty much in line with (the latest) business plan. The economy is eventually going to turn around, and that’s going to help.”

Wanderscheid also pointed to ancillary benefits already realized by Ashland residents since AFN came on line. Competition for Internet services has lowered the charges from all companies in Ashland for such services, and similar Web access in Medford costs twice as much as in Ashland, he said.

“Money has stayed in the community,” Wanderscheid said, “Unfortunately, that’s really hard to reflect in a business plan.”

“It’s still not a great picture,” Wanderscheid conceded.

Committee member Jim Moore pointed out that it is the committee’s responsibility to question the viability of AFN, along with the rest of the city budget.

“When we see things that don’t look good, we’ve got to ask about ’em,” Moore said.

Committee member Dave Williams noted the repeated changes in the AFN business plan, which have consistently dropped revenue expectations, increased borrowing and moved out the break-even point for the publicly funded venture. He called for a new plan to more quickly bring AFN to a point where it delivers more money than it bleeds out, adding that the current plan “makes it difficult to responsibly support AFN.”

“AFN needs to do whatever it can to make that happen,” Williams said.

Working off hypothetical numbers he came up with himself, Williams estimated that a $15 million AFN debt would cost Ashland taxpayers $200 a year for 10 years to pay off.

Early AFN plans had predicted the network would start making a profit by the 2003-2004 fiscal year, but a series of missed projections capsized those expectations. A follow-up plan then projected a positive income by 2006-2007. Budget committee members and city staff had expressed faith at the time that the lower expectations would easily be met.

“When we look for targets to shoot for, I don’t want to shoot for the conservative plan,” Ashland Finance Director Lee Tuneberg said in an October 2001 meeting. At the same meeting, committee chair Martin Levine was hopeful the plan would play out.

“What if we had come up with a conservative plan and it never showed a profit?” he said two years ago. “We’d be idiots to go forward.”

Committee member and consistent AFN critic Russ Silbiger on Saturday chastised what he believes is a history of misleading AFN business plans, pointing at incomplete information given to the public on the venture from its inception and the continual downward revisions of AFN business plans.

“This is almost a replay of two years ago,” Silbiger said, highlighting the lack of high-speed data customers – meat and potatoes for AFN’s projected revenue. “There is really an abysmal failure on high-speed data.”

Ashland City Councilor and committee member Don Laws ceded AFN’s inability to hit projections in the past, noting overly optimistic projections.

“AFN started on bad footing and erroneous assumptions,” Laws said.

Laws added that a new, more exact business plan is scheduled to come out in the next few months. He advised committee budget members to approve the proposed budget and give AFN another year to see how it works out, or delete the budget completely and start looking at selling the venture to ameliorate the cost to Ashland residents.

“Fish or cut bait,” Laws said.

Committee members also criticized direction from the Ashland City Council to AFN staff not to market the service outside the city.

“That’s history,” budget committee member and Ashland Councilor Cate Hartzell said. “We really can’t afford that. Let’s go out and let’s market (AFN).”

Levine suggested the committee approve the proposed budget – with all its unknowns – and reconvene when the new AFN business plan comes out to look at a revised budget.

The committee decided in favor of that idea, with Silbiger the lone dissenter. The new plan will likely be complete by August, at which time the committee will gather to consider an AFN budget update.

The committee on Saturday also heard budget presentations from the remaining city department heads, and will discuss the overall budget in another committee session scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, when members will likely consider the budget document’s approval.

The committee meets at the Ashland Civic Center council chambers, 1175 E. Main St. The meeting will be carried live on Rogue Valley Community Television Channel 9.

http://www.dailytidings.com/2003/news0505/050503n2.shtml