ASHLAND STATE OF THE CITY - 2005
Mayor John Morrison
Good evening to my fellow citizens of Ashland, my colleagues on the council and city staff members.
Tonight, we stand on the threshold of a New Year, a year which, if history tells us any thing at all, is likely to bring us a number of new challenges.
It is customary that each year at this time, the Mayor deliver a State of the City address in which we look at the accomplishments of the past year, the expectations for the coming year, and present an assessment of how well prepared the city is to carry out its responsibilities to you, the citizens of Ashland.
As your newly elected Mayor, I am honored to have this first opportunity to present you with the State of the City for 2005.
Before I begin, I'd like to ask us all to reflect for a moment as we sit here in this building, set in this most beautiful and liveable of small cities, to think about how tenuous such comfort and safety and even life itself can be.
Hardly a week ago, the world stopped and watched in horror as a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions hit a part of the world we seldom think of. A tsunami with waves of up to thirty feet deep slid with deadly and inexorable force upon the shores of a number of nations around the Indian Ocean, creating a scene of death and destruction the world has seldom seen.
And the world has rushed to help. Many of us here in this room may already have pitched in in whatever way you could. I didn't bring up the horrible disaster to urge you to help (although of course I do) but to point out that sometimes the unexpected, even the unthinkable, does happen, and we as citizens and members of government must be prepared to address it to the best of our abilities.
Although a natural disaster of such proportions has never been visited upon Ashland, and hopefully it never will, we have experienced times of fire and flood.
Many of you may remember that, just eight years ago, at nearly this exact time of year, we were digging our Plaza free of mud and silt left by the flood waters that raged through our beautiful Lithia Park and downtown area ... many of you had no water or sewer service...homes went unheated ... businesses were closed for weeks and even months. Though we experienced no loss of life, the life of our city was severely interrupted. The economic hardship was great.
That flood, though in no way on the scale of the disaster in Asia, provided us with both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge to rebuild better than ever and the opportunity to conduct that reconstruction in a way that leaves us today less vulnerable than we were then ... with better creek channelization and a better flood preparedness plan than before. And that terrible disaster in Asia provides us with an opportunity for perspective ... that no matter how bad our problems may appear, they pale in comparison to what the children, women and men of those faraway Asian shores have gone through.
It is my sincere wish that as we face the inevitable irritations and frustrations of day to day living in the coming year we keep our good fortune in mind as well, our good fortune to be living in such a blessed place as Ashland.
Each year, as in past years, our department heads have been asked to note the important events of the previous 12 months and provide us with a bit of a look into the year to come as well.
Under the leadership of Dick Wanderscheid, the Electric and Telecommunication Department made a number of strides forward in 2005.
Telecommunications continued to make progress toward turning the Ashland Fiber Network vision into a reality. Navigant Consultants was hired to help develop a better understanding of what is needed to build a marketable AFN. 2004 saw the implementation of many of Navigant's AFN recommendations and we are continuing to implement the remainder.
New performance measures were developed for the Ashland Fiber Network, to help us better measure the service's growth and development. A plan for refinancing AFN's debt was implemented which will smooth its financial operation as it works toward profitability.
In the Electric Department, an electric rate reduction to Ashland citizens and businesses was implemented. And the department continued to convert the City's street lighting system to dark sky fixtures.
We saw the implementation of the Ashland/Bonneville Power Administration Power Shift Pilot program on the Ashland Fiber Network. This program will eventually yield far more efficient use of electricity to all Ashland users.
We also successfully launched the 'Earth Advantage' Program, the City's new home Energy Efficiency Program which we will be promoting in 2005.
In the Human Resources Department, Tina Gray was kept very busy this past year with recruitments, new employee orientations and general benefits administration as a number of our long-term employees retired. Among those retiring were:
Scott Fleuter, Police Chief, after 7 years
Larry Murphy with the Waste Water Treatment Plant, after 19 years
Robert Pope, with the Waste Water Treatment Plant, after 12 years
Robert (Robo) Robustelli, with the Street Department, after 15 years
Mike Vincent, with the Waste Water Treatment Plant, after 19 years
Richard Marshall, with the Waste Water Treatment Plant, after 25 years
Paul Nolte, City Attorney, after 13 years, and
Stu Smith, with the Conservation and Building Department after 22 years.
We applaud them for their many years of dedicated service to the community.
On the horizon we have three labor union contracts that expire this June (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers-Electrical, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers-Clerical/Technical and Laborers). In order to better fit with our budget cycle and to facilitate bargaining three contracts at once, we have requested cooperation from the unions in beginning our negotiations earlier. Instead of settling in June when the budget has already been set, we are going to begin negotiating in January and have a much better handle on how the contracts might impact the budget. This allows for more accurate budget development.
Under the direction of Fire Chief Keith Woodley, the City's Fire & Rescue Department:
Continues to work toward averting wildfire catastrophes by securing a $250,000 National Fire Plan Grant to assist private landowners with wildfire fuel reduction work on their lands located in the urban-wildland interface. Work is currently ongoing.
They secured an Oregon Homeland Security Grant to help design and install a radio repeater system to improve emergency communications for the fire department. Specifications for this system are currently being developed.
They secured a Federal Emergency Management Administration grant to prepare a wildfire evacuation plan and install evacuation route signs in the City of Ashland.
An AM radio emergency broadcast station was installed at the Fire Department to provide emergency response information at 1700 MHz on the AM radio band to the community in the event of a community-wide emergency.
The Community Emergency Response Team program and its capabilities was expanded. The Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) continues to attract new members and provides an important support for the community in the event of an emergency. If anyone is interested in becoming a CERT member they should contact the Fire Department for information.
Fire and Rescue provided staff support for the development of the Ashland Community Wildfire Protection Plan and submitted it to the Forest Service.
They successfully planned and implemented a 183 acre commercial thinning project and helicopter timber sale on City-owned forest lands to remove dead, diseased, dying timber and to thin overstocked timber stands to improve forest health.
They conducted a community-wide emergency management exercise for city staff training in connection with the Hosler Dam Emergency Response Plan.
The department also applied for and won an Assistance To Firefighters national grant for the construction of a trailer-mounted house which will be used to teach fire safety education to school children. This unit will serve all of Jackson County and should be delivered in March 2005.
It should also be noted that the department is completing its first year in the new fire station, for which both fire staff and the city are very grateful.
In the Planning and Community Development Department, 2004 the City of Ashland saw 19 new housing units added to its affordable housing stock.
Community Development Director John McLaughlin and his staff have tackled our affordable housing needs in a number of ways.
By working with the Ashland Community Land Trust to develop a six-unit apartment complex on Garfield and to acquire three additional units with the use of Community Development Block Grant funds awarded by the City.
The Rogue Valley Community Development Corporation has applied $635,000 in City CDBG funds to purchase property for the development of 15 affordable housing units for home ownership. These units are to begin construction in 2005.
The City of Ashland dedicated the proceeds from the partition and sale of surplus property (Strawberry and Westwood) to further the development of affordable housing.
The City of Ashland passed a minimum density ordinance in multifamily zones in an effort to ensure that such land is used efficiently and provides for a needed housing type, apartments.
The City is exploring the process to make a downtown parking lot available for the development of up to ten affordable rental units and has issued a Request for Proposals for the development.
The Planning Division processed over 150 planning applications, creating opportunities for new homes and businesses throughout the community. Key approvals include a new mixed-use multi-story hardware and apartment complex on Ashland Street and continued investment in Ashland's downtown through new mixed use developments. The Planning Commission also reviewed and approved the first new dormitory housing on the SOU campus in approximately 40 years, meeting the housing needs of a changing student population.
This has been a good year for the Public Works Department. I want to share with you some of the highlights accomplished by Director Paula Brown and her able staff:
All of the operations groups have really engaged in an aggressive and diverse set of maintenance accomplishments:
The GIS program has fully integrated the base maps to the utility system mapping (electric, water, sewer, storm drains). This enables the crews to have current information and make better decisions for maintenance and replacements. In addition, the link of the GIS system to the water and wastewater flow models will help to anticipate the needs for growth and let staff test different applications.
The cartegraph computer program for pavement management is in full swing and provides great information that improves the street maintenance program for slurry seals, crack maintenance and overlays. This analysis helps to reduce costs of full replacements and extends the useful life of our street network.
The cartegraph program has also been extended to include building maintenance and wastewater piping to better anticipate a five-year maintenance and repair plan to effectively manage the financial responsibilities.
We have effectively looked at our equipment and fleet purchases to purchase smaller vehicles for the non-crew vehicles, and are continuing to look at the dual fuel or alternative fuel options. Bio-diesel is being tested in several of the fleet vehicles.
Infiltration and inflow in the city's sewer lines has been further reduced through an aggressive sewer mainline evaluation and repair program. This includes televisioning the lines to locate root problems or line breaks then fixing or replacing those lines. Smoke testing has also been completed in several areas to decrease illegal connections. This has also helped to reduce the number of sewer related claims.
We have operated the "new" wastewater treatment plant's membrane facility for two full years and have streamlined that process for better efficiencies in staffing and maintenance.
On the Capital Improvements side efforts have shifted from transportation projects to water:
Siskiyou Boulevard and Ashland Street were fully completed in the early spring
of 2004, but there are several significant street projects to complete this
|||Beginning Water Street Bridge replacement in March 2005;|
|||Completion of the 2004 Street Project which includes the right turn lane at Walker Avenue and E. Main (completed), curbs and sidewalks on the north side of Hersey, widening a section of Tolman Creek Road from Ashland Street to E. Main, and reconstruction of E. Main from Dewey to N. Mountain;|
|||Completing the miscellaneous concrete project which includes some downtown curb extensions and crosswalks for safety, sidewalks on Nevada (LID) and other sidewalk sections throughout town; and|
|||Beginning the design of the Central Ashland Bikepath extension to the north end of town along the railroad tracks.|
Replacements for the old 1909 water main transmission pipelines from Hosler Dam to the plant and on into town have been designed and will be constructed next year at an estimated $1.75 million. That will reduce the potential for system failures from aging infrastructure.
The preliminary design for the Talent/Ashland/Phoenix Pipeline extension is nearing completion and the next steps are to secure land for the receiving reservoir, complete final design and determine the best timing for construction and water rights approvals.
The Ashland Municipal Airport has seen several improvements to taxiways, 14 new T-Hangars, and a nearly complete Master Plan. Funds for the taxiway improvements have come from the Federal Aviation Administration and Oregon Aviation Administration. The T-hangar building was funded through a conventional loan to be repaid through rents.
Next year's 2005 focus for Public Works is to:
Complete the fiscal year '05 construction program and find innovative ways to effect change so that we are better able to tackle the projects that come up;
Focus on training for in-house construction and maintenance projects to better respond to our customers;
Find new ways to use emerging technology and equipment to improve efficiencies without compromising quality and safety;
Review options for the pending temperature regulations at the wastewater treatment plant and focus on the "right water for the right use" which includes options for even more conservation practices with our potable water use and backyard irrigation systems;
Continue to look at options and solutions to improve safety at our railroad crossings, and funding availability; and
Continue our traffic safety programs to improve neighborhood safety, school links for bicycling and pedestrian use, and downtown pedestrian safety projects.
In the Police Department, Police Chief Mike Bianca and his staff have seen an improvement in police technology this past year with wireless data connection to police cars.
The police department continues to have successful management of major events, such as the 4th of July celebrations, the Children's Halloween parade and New Year's Eve festivities. They also solved three homicides and two bank robberies.
We saw Rich Walsh promoted to Deputy Police Chief, and said goodbye to Officers Kevin Flynn who was with the city for 9 years, and Joe Gagliano, with the city for four years. Jenette Bertocchi from the front office moved on after six years with the police department.
And we bid farewell to Donna Daniels who retired after 20 years of service to the Community Service Volunteer Program.
The Finance Department was again presented with the Budget Award which it has now won 12 times and the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report award 13 times.
The amount allocated during 2003-2004 for the Ashland Low Income Energy Assistance Program (known as ALIEP) was $67,000 with an amount distributed to citizens of $53,720. There remains a balance at the end of the program of over $6,000.
102 Senior Citizen households, 25 Disabled, 1 Military and 150 low income households benefited by the ALEIP program for a total of 278 households.
The Payroll department has been asked to be on the advisory committee for PERS. A work-study group has been established and will meet with several government entities on a quarterly basis.
In the Legal Department, following Paul Nolte's retirement, Assistant City Attorney Mike Franell was appointed the City Attorney in July. Mike Reeder joined the Legal Department as the Assistant City Attorney in October. The Legal Department has been busy this past year handling the usual lawsuits, claims, appeals and now, with the enactment of Measure 37, is gearing up for potential land use claims.
The Administration Department oversees our Sister City Committee, and ties with our sister city, Guanajuato, continue to thrive. We have been sister cities with this delightful city for the past 33 years and hope for many more. This last year saw the dedication of the Guanajuato Room at the Ashland library and a visit from the Mayor of Guanajuato, Arnulfo Vazquez Nieto and the Governor of Guanajuato, Juan Carlos Romero Hicks.
Each year the City sends two high school representatives to Guanajuato to celebrate the Presa de la Olla festivities; last year Sylvia Van Ausdal and Holly Brooke Milligan were chosen for this honor. Guanajuato in turn sends its Queen and other dignitaries to Ashland during the July 4th celebrations.
Our own Senora Chela Kocks was awarded the prestigious El Pipila de Plata while in Guanajuato earlier in the year. Chela Kocks has been a constant source of energy contributing to our successful relationship with our sister city.
Ashland and Guanajuato enjoy a warm relationship, due to our many student, city and professional exchanges that have served to produce so many bi-lingual persons.
The Parks & Recreation Department has continued its fine partnership with the City in providing us with beautifully maintained parks and a constantly expanding proven recreation department reflecting our changing community needs. We would also like to note that Don Robertson celebrated his first anniversary this week as Director of the Parks & Recreation Department.
In 2004 the Charter Review Committee was formed. The committee has been meeting a couple of times a month since October to review the existing charter to determine if it will adequately serve the community well into the future, and if necessary, the committee will prepare a draft charter for the City of Ashland. The proposed charter will ultimately be reviewed by the city council for placement on the ballot for the voters of Ashland.
For the 19th year in a row Ashland was again named A Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation to honor its commitment to its community forest. It shows that trees are very special to Ashland, as Ashland hosts it own annual Tree of the Year selection process. Residents are invited to select their favorite tree in Ashland. The winner of the Tree of the Year for 2004 for Ashland was the Monterey Cypress located at the corner of Scenic and Wimer. That marked Ashland's 17th Tree of the Year contest.
The James M. Ragland Memorial Volunteer Spirit Community Service Award for 2004 was awarded to local community access TV personality Pete Belcastro. I would also like to take this time to thank all of our countless volunteers who devote hours and hours of their time to the city.
In closing, I would like to welcome our new City Councilors, Jack Hardesty and Russ Silbiger, and congratulate Cate Hartzell on her relection. I would also like to salute Alan DeBoer, who served very ably as mayor over the past four years, and Don Laws, who served on the city council for 30 years. Thank you.
I would also like to express my thanks to all the city staff for their continued hard work and dedication.
And that concludes my first State of the City speech. I wish you all a happy and peaceful new year.