Agendas and Minutes

City Council (View All)

Study Session

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Wednesday, July 16, 2003 at 12:00 p.m.
Council Chambers, 1175 East Main Street

Mayor DeBoer called the meeting to order at 12:07 p.m.

City Council: Laws, Hartzell and Jackson were present; Amarotico, Morrison and Hearn were absent.
Staff: John McLaughlin, Community Development Director and Ann Seltzer, Communication Manager.

I. Economic Development Action Plan

Community Development Director John McLaughlin briefly explained that the information provided will assist the council in the development of a process for the creation of the Action Plan.

McLaughlin presented to the Council a plan reflecting how to proceed with the Economic Development element. He suggested: 1) contract a consulting firm to update socioeconomic data necessary for decision-making, 2) appoint a broad-based committee to review data and information, 3) utilize the committee to develop an action plan for addressing strategies, including the allocation of the Transient Occupancy Tax revenues, 4) Appoint Transient Occupancy Tax Committee to review current allocation and recommend modifications as part of the 2004-05 Budget Process, and 5) Update the Economic Element of the Comprehensive Plan.

McLaughlin mentioned that there use to be an Economic Commission that was active in the mid-80s, bringing businesses to town. But due to political changes, the commission was disbanded. The funds were primarily appropriated to the Chamber of Commerce and it has been that way ever since. McLaughlin also relayed that Ashland has developed a reputation for not being open to business. He mentioned Ashland's high standards, and said it was a difficult process with no incentives. He did however say that despite our reputation, Ashland has a healthy economic base.

McLaughlin explained that ECONNorthwest would be made aware of our needs when responding to a Request for Proposal (RFP) in order to meet the analysis requirement. He stated that this firm has worked on other projects in the community and would be familiar with our economy. Jackson stated that she would like to see work on implementation policies and that she liked the shorter schedule. She questioned whether there should be more of a marketing element. She also said that she did not want to impose on the Planning Dept, but was hoping the Council would take the lead, and focus on supporting our local economy.

McLaughlin clarified that there is no set timeline, and there is no pressure from the state to complete the statistical update. Updating the background data would only be for the Councils' benefit. Hartzell said she would be satisfied with updating and bringing the updated information to the element. She stated that the goal should be to revise the element, and questioned how successful we've been with the element so far. McLaughlin commented that he felt that the element has been successful thus far, and the City is growing in a way that brings more people to the valley. He did question whether we have produced the right mix of jobs, stating that the majority was created in the service industry. Hartzell commented that #5 "the recommendation of the committee would go to Budget Committee first", may need to be modified.

Laws commented that he was anxious to see the updated data, and to see if any new trends have developed. He said he was completely opposed to any aggressive marketing with the exception of AFN. He doesn't feel that this is what Ashland needs or wants, as jobs are being created without aggressive marketing. He said the efforts to market have usually not been successful. Stating that the only successful incidents have been because they were able to offer subsidies, which in the long run did not pay off. Laws said he would like to continue to help businesses already established in town to be successful. He noted that part of the concern to update the element came out of the Transient Occupancy Tax allocation. He stated that the Chamber is doing something now, but we don't know what exactly they are doing, or if it is successful. He would like to see something measurable on what the Chamber is doing and how it is being perceived.

Jackson expressed a need for someone to assist new businesses through the process and that we should not discriminate against non-locals who wanted to start a business here in Ashland. She sees this timeline as being workable, and notes the need to have the updated data before the TOT is discussed.

It was noted that the cost for the study would be approximately $10,000-$15,000. Mayor DeBoer noted that the new Housing Coordinator could be helpful in gathering certain information when working on the update to the Comprehensive Plan. As council liaison to the Chamber, he would try to bring more information forward to the Council. He explained how he would prefer putting this project off for two years, noting several large projects including Affordable Housing and the Charter Review. He feels that there are things that the City can do now that would not require additional expenses and excessive time. He expressed the need to utilize our current staff to assist in answering questions and portraying the right image to potential businesses. He supported the TOT proposal presented by Councilors Laws and Hartzell, and reinforced that Council is taking on too many new things without first completing some of the other projects.

Jackson requested that more specifics be provided before putting this off. She expressed the need to have a balance between jobs and housing in Ashland. She does not support the idea of utilizing the Housing Coordinator to head up the investigation to gather economic data. Jackson would like to have a specific implementation plan, and stated she would still like to know more specifics about what the Chamber is doing on this issue. She expressed the need to see the dollars from the TOT spent on something besides tourism and for a certain amount of information gathered before the TOT allocation can be updated.

Hartzell acknowledged the need to be aware of staff workload, but feels the Council could move forward with issue without putting a huge strain on the Planning Commission. She noted what she feels is a strong relationship between the Affordable Housing Project and the Economic Development Plan. She also expressed the need to develop target goals with the Chamber of Commerce relating to how their TOT dollars should be spent. Hartzell would feel much more comfortable having an expertise group or ad-hoc committee formed instead of passing it on to everyone else. She feels that we can accomplish this goal without spending a huge amount of money, and feels that some of the money from the TOT could be used to fund this proposed committee.

Mayor DeBoer acknowledged Hartzell's comments, but posed the question "after the final report has been produced, are we willing to provide funding to assist businesses coming to town?" He expressed the need for a warm, productive environment that will accept new businesses, but he does not think the taxpayers want the Council to give new businesses a tax break. DeBoer mentioned the only thing that he would change is having a team of individuals, or someone on staff that will help carry prospective businesses through the process, and wants to see a different attitude from the Planning Department.

Jackson expressed that Ashland does not have the room or the desire for big businesses that would be seeking tax breaks. She would like to grow small businesses in our community, and feels the study is necessary to identify what some of these businesses are. Laws stated that he is not worried about SOREDI, as they are already working on bringing in new businesses. He supports waiting for one year and leaving the TOT as is. He suggests that a sit down be scheduled with OSF, Chamber, and SOREDI to reach a consensus on which direction to head. He agrees that the element needs to be redone first before developing a strategy and TOT, but feels that the Council may be rushing things. Jackson supports using a broad based committee to develop ideas, and would like the updated information to be used for implementation strategies.

Hartzell stated that the Council would need to review the existing plan, obtain new information, and update their understandings. She supported the assembly of a diverse Ad Hoc Committee. Hartzell offered to head up developing a proposed makeup for a committee and present it to the Council.

Mayor stated he had no problem developing a committee for the TOT tax, but that the Economic Development Plan should be a separate issue. Mayor expressed that looking at the Charter Review is a more important issue than the Economic Development Plan.

Laws commented that if the Council withholds funds from OSF and the Chamber, their relationship with these primary organizations could be damaged.

Council agreed that this is a discussion that needs to be revisited when the entire Council can attend.

Meeting was adjourned at 1:50 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,
Barbara Christensen, City Recorder

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