March 6, 2015
An element of the economic development strategy discussion at the recent Council study session centered on the value of the conscious direction provided in the Strategy document to focus local efforts on retention and expansion of existing businesses rather than recruitment of businesses to our community. While there may not be any direct evidence that Ashland’s policy decision influenced others in the region or the State, there has clearly been similar policy movement at Business Oregon as described in this Oregonian article from this past October. Also, the additional Jackson County funding provided recently to SOREDI has made it possible for SOREDI to add a staff member dedicated solely to retention and expansion. Adam Hanks was a part of their hiring process and an announcement of their new staff member should be coming soon. Having local, regional and state policy direction in general alignment is a very positive sign of the value of our increased participation with our regional partners and will hopefully bring the results we all envision.
City-County Insurance Services announced “not to exceed” rate increases for its various coverage lines last week: 7.6% for liability premiums and 5% for property premiums. These rates are slightly lower than what we had assumed in our budget projections. This may allow us to revise our insurance charges to the departments down a little although the impact will barely be noticed in department budgets, and we won’t know our actual rates until April. (While CIS calls them “not to exceed” rates, there are in fact circumstances in which the increases can be higher.) Of particular interest are the increases for CIS health benefits, which range from 7.8% for regular health plans (which would have been 11-12% but for a CIS decision to tap into reserves to hold rates down) to as much as 21% for certain high-deductible plans. Even with a 16+% increase in health benefits charges for the next biennium (after three years of flat health benefits charges), the switch to self-insurance continues to look like a prudent fiscal move.
We received notice this week from ODOT that California Oregon Pacific Railroad has begun soliciting bids for the “2015 Siskiyou Tiger IV ODOT Rail Rehabilitation Project.” This is the project to upgrade and repair the tunnel, bridge and track (about 49,000 linear feet of rail) south of Ashland and pave the way for freight rail service to resume in southern Oregon, possibly by the end of this year. The work will take place from April through August.
Finally, I’d like to share something I came across in the CityLab e-newsletter that has absolutely no connection to any City program or service, Council goal, citizen concern or budget issue. Researchers at Cornell University have modeled what would actually happen if zombies attacked a city. The good news is that the smaller and more remote the city, the longer it will take for the zombies to turn everyone else into a zombie. The bad news is, the zombies eventually win. This raises the question: Do parents who are spending tens of thousands of dollars a year to send their kids to Cornell know that the professors there are spending their time creating interactive zombie maps? Click here to see the map and see how the Rogue Valley fares if a zombie is dropped into our midst. The researchers assumed that zombies are roughly 25% more likely to bite humans than humans are to kill zombies and that zombies can travel only so fast since they are, after all, technically dead. SPOILER ALERT: It would take about a week for the Medford MSMA to become zombies in this (real life?) scenario. (By the way, this model predicts that the safest place to be in the event of a zombie attack is the Northern Rockies.)
All Ashland firefighters are paramedics, capable of providing the most advanced emergency medicine in the field. Throughout the year, emergency medical training occurs in-house with much of the training provided by our own personnel. While many of the things that paramedics do are routine and frequent, there are some things that are rarely needed, but when it is needed, it will mean the difference between life and death for the patient. One of these rare procedures is cricothyrotomy, an invasive procedure wherein an airway is cut through the skin in the neck and through the trachea. A cricothyrotomy is used when a patient cannot breathe and paramedics are unable to gain an airway through more routine methods such as intubation. Inability to intubate a patient may occur when there is substantial facial or upper neck trauma or significant swelling caused by an allergic reaction. Because this is in invasive procedure, and it is rarely done, practical training is essential. Firefighter/Paramedic Rod LaCoste recently provided training for each shift with hands-on training thanks to a local butcher. Rod was able to obtain the trachea and lungs from butchered sheep that firefighters were able to practice the cricothyrotomy procedure, obviously not a procedure to practice on each other.
Last week Ashland Fire and Rescue, through the generous grant funding from U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety, and the Office of State Fire Marshal, received in-house hazardous materials training presented by Federal Resources. The training consisted of three 8-hour days that allowed all three shifts of Ashland Fire & Rescue to attend along with neighboring agencies. This valuable training concentrated on developing an understating of the equipment needed to quickly identify, categorize and determine a course of action to start the mitigation process of a potential hazardous materials incident. Over the three days the class was taught to over 50 students, which included lecture, hands-on scenario-based training along with specific tailored training centered around the equipment that Ashland Fire carries on its vehicles.
Southern Oregon University has submitted a land use application for renovation and expansion of the existing 113,000 square foot McNeal Pavilion sports facility, which includes a new Student Recreation Center to be built at the same time. The new facilities will be located off of Wightman Street, between the new dormitories and dining hall to the south and Raider Stadium to the north. With the proposed $24.5 million renovation and addition, the total building area will be increased to 121,770 square feet over three floor levels (an approximate 11% increase in the existing footprint and 8% in floor area). Staff anticipates that this action will be scheduled for a public hearing before the Planning Commission in April or May. A conceptual rendering for the proposal is shown here.
Public Works Department
Over the past year, crews at the Waste Water Treatment Plant have been monitoring the plant’s energy usage in an effort to identify methods to reduce overall energy consumption. Treating waste water to a level safe enough to release back into creeks is an energy intensive endeavor. While at this time there are no alternatives to using electricity, using it as wisely as we can is definitely a goal. The treatment plant operates numerous pumps, motors, air compressors, lights and a high intensity ultraviolet system, all of which consume electricity. While we must continue to operate these systems to maintain compliance, operating these systems efficiently has allowed us to reduce our energy usage significantly.
Our treatment plant staff took part in a regional workshop designed to bring awareness to treatment plant practices with the overall goal of reducing energy usage. At the same time, two of our treatment plant operators went to a training session on how to operate our membrane filtration system. While they were there, they realized our membrane system consumes a very large amount of electricity and there could be ways to reduce that consumption while still maintaining compliance. Operating the membrane system requires the use of large air blowers to help with the membrane cleaning process. These blowers are essentially large air compressors powered by 50 horsepower motors. The system was originally designed to operate using one blower per train of membranes, so we were operating all four blowers around the clock for the seven months of the year the membrane system is online. While at this training our operators realized one blower was capable of doing what we had been doing with four. The idea was brought to an engineering firm to confirm the plant operators’ idea would work while at the same time operating the membrane system appropriately. The engineers agreed and the system was reprogrammed. We now rotate through the blowers operating each one for a period of time; this will dramatically increase the life expectancy of the blowers while greatly reducing our energy usage.
We immediately reduced our energy consumption by 1,800 kWh per day. Overall this reduced our energy bill by $3,400 per month and we expect to see that savings continue for seven months of the year (while the membranes are online) for the life of the plant. Chris Stark and Greg Whittenburg went above and beyond their responsibilities as treatment plant operators to find ways to improve our existing systems and we’re all thankful they did so. We expect to see savings in energy at the treatment plant in excess of $23,000 per year, thanks to Chris and Greg!
This major success story is just one of the many energy saving projects being worked on by the Waste Water Treatment Plant staff. With some technical assistance (and potential funding assistance) from the City’s Energy Conservation staff, exterior lighting will be retrofitted to all LED lighting, adding to the energy savings. Improved controls for thermostats for the multiple buildings and occupancy sensors for interior lighting are also in the evaluation stage.
This week a third victim came forward in the sexual assault investigation involving suspect Dustin Tyrer. This victim is reporting she was assaulted by the suspect in another jurisdiction, which will handle that investigation with assistance from APD detectives. This investigation is ongoing and it is likely that additional victims will be identified both in Ashland and in other jurisdictions. This investigation is another example of the effectiveness of the You Have Options program as it is unlikely any of these victims would have come forward without the program.
Following is an entry made into the Police Department’s performance tracking system this week, which is also related to the ongoing investigation of Dustin Tyrer.
Supervisor Compliment for Officer John Perrone (49666) occurred on 3/6/2015
Entered by Deputy Chief Warren Hensman (51271) on 3/6/2015
I wanted to compliment you on the successful completion of three search warrants in connection to an ongoing serial sexual assault investigation with suspect Dustin Tyrer. Each search warrant was serviced without incident, ultimately obtaining property that we hope will further the investigation.
Thanks you for your diligence in this sensitive investigation.
Board and Commission Updates
Housing and Human Services Commission
At its regular monthly meeting, the Housing and Human Services Commission was provided a brief update regarding the student fair housing project and the next steps. It was decided that the commission would revisit this item and the original Council direction to the commission at its regular meeting in May, as the March and April meetings will be taken up with the CDBG and Social Service grant application review and recommendations. The commissioners also realized that they will not have a quorum for the March meeting and have agreed to move that meeting to the following week, which will be April 2nd. The Commission also discussed creating an ad-hoc committee to decide on next steps for the Housing Trust Fund goal and agreed to add an agenda item regarding that topic on the May meeting agenda. Lastly, staff provided an update regarding the progress of the rental registry process and commissioners provided input on the draft registry form.