MINUTES FOR THE JOINT MEETING
ASHLAND CITY COUNCIL AND
ASHLAND PARKS AND RECREATION COMMISSION
October 30, 2008
1175 E. Main Street
CALL TO ORDER
Mayor Morrison and Parks Commission Chair, Mike Gardner, called the meeting to order at 7:00 p.m. in the Civic Center Council Chambers.
Councilor Chapman, Hardesty, Hartzell, Jackson, Navickas, and Silbiger were present.
Commissioners Eggers, Lewis, Noraas, and Rosenthal were present.
Mayor Morrison gave overview of the agenda and the reasons for calling this meeting.
City Administrator, Martha Bennett, Finance Director, Lee Tuneberg, and Parks Director, Don Robertson, gave a Power Point presentation (attached) regarding the steps that lead to this meeting and the issues to be discussed.
Ms. Bennett gave overview of discussions held during the previous budget process. Mr. Tuneberg presented a chart of the projected fund balances for the next 6 years. Many funds look poor, some look very bad, and only a few look ok. Ms. Bennett stated that they will spend most of tonight's meeting focused on the General Fund and the Pars and Recreation fund because these are the funds that are primarily tax supported and the other funds are more easily in the City's control. Starting in 2007 the City began spending more in the general fund than was collected in revenue. The City expects to do this again in 2009 and projects this will happen, depending upon the economy, for the next several years.
Mr. Tuneberg gave overview of the sources of revenue for the General Fund. Most revenues come from property taxes. The City of Ashland has a particularly wide array of taxes, which has given us a more stable base of revenue than many cities in Oregon. Mr. Tuneberg gave an overview of the general fund revenue trends for the past four years. He also gave an overview of the types of services provided in the General Fund including; Police, Fire and Rescue, Administrative Services (finance), Community Development, some Administration and some Public Works activities.
Ms. Bennett told the group about the short-term general fund issues including:
A slow down in construction which can cause loss of funds in both permits and additional monies from newly assessed property taxes
Transient occupancy taxes are flat
Borrowing is becoming challenging
Interest earnings will be lower than budgeted
Lower rate of property tax collection
Some expenses are growing faster than revenues.
The longer-term general fund issues the group needs to deal with include:
Permanent tax rate cap due to measure 50 limits
Vulnerability to changes in telecommunications franchise fee collections
Inflationary pressures (costs rising faster than revenue)
Declining rate of reimbursement for ambulance services
Cost recovery policies
Mr. Robertson gave overview of the Parks budget over time including sources of revenue and the types of services provided by the parks department. One of the biggest budget changes recently was when Parks took over the Senior Center, which increased expenditures faster than revenues. Another significant change reflected in the charts was Parks beginning to handle the School grounds maintenance entirely. Parks Commission has done a couple of things to improve the Parks Fund budget outlook including; tying their budget process to their goal setting process, updating the facilities fees for the first time in 10 years, and establishing policies and targets for cost recovery.
The short term Parks fund challenges:
Need to maintain an adequate ending fund balance to ensure funds available until property taxes are received (especially important due to high activity levels in summer)
Interest earnings lower than budgeted
Rate of property tax collection (Ashland is impacted by all Jackson County tax collections)
Inflation-driven expenses are growing faster than revenue.
Mr. Robertson gave overview of the long-term fund challenges including:
Youth Activities Levy expiring
Food And Beverage Tax expiring
Most Parks revenues are from property taxes
Long-term agreements about city/parks split of tax rate
Ms. Bennett informed the group that the discussions and decisions from this group before the beginning of the next budget process include: overall priorities for reductions and additions, priorities specific to shifts in the economy, and overall approach to revenues. Additional longer-term discussions will need to be had regarding the desired overall service levels, prioritization of services, and the overall tax burden for residents. From those discussions we will probably touch on other topics like; renewing the Food and Beverage tax, local option levies for parks services, general obligation bonds, and capital projects versus service levels.
Ms. Bennett proposed that we use a series of Council study session and meet with Council, Parks Commission, and the Budget Committee to talk about four main topics; public safety, parks and recreation services, development related services, and revenue issues and options. She gave details on the proposed meeting dates.
Committee asked why the Food and Beverage tax (F&B) was not included in the Parks fund slides. Mr. Robertson informed the group that currently F&B goes towards Capital Projects in Parks and not in their general parks fund. It will need to be discussed to determine if Parks could use those funds not only for capital but for new construction or for general operating expenses.
Committee wanted clarification as to why the Parks Administration costs were so much greater than the City Administration costs. This is due to City Administration costs mostly being in the Central Services fund and not the General fund and Parks Administration costs mostly involving recreations management costs.
Jean Crawford encouraged the group to continue to make funding for Parks a priority. She reminded the group of the long history of public involvement with the parks including donation of land, working to improve parks through volunteering. She knows the Parks Commission as worked hard to maintain good budgeting and to use volunteer help where needed. She believes we need a long-term plan for acquiring new park land.
Darren Borgias thanked both groups for all their hard work. He is representing the Friends of Westwood Park. The Friends of Westwood Park strongly support protecting existing parks. They also support finding long-term support for the continued improvement of parks and the continued acquisition of new park property. Would like to encourage the group to support re-instating the F&B tax and would like a portion of it to go to support parks.
Lynn Thompson thinks that the proposal for having a series of discussions is positive. She reminded the group that the budget committee has been asking for this for as long as she has been a member. She thinks it is a positive thing to include the Parks Commission in the broader discussion. She hopes that if the group can spend time before the budget process to deal with some of the specific issues in the General fund then maybe the budget process can be more focused.
Paul Hwoschinsky stated that parks are a core value of Ashland and we need to take a longer-term view. Was frustrated that, when a recent housing development was created, 7 people were able to stop the creation of the park connected to the project. Suspects we will be having budget challenges at least until 2012 and we need to take a long-range view of budgeting.
DISCUSSION OF NEXT STEPS/PROPOSED PROCESS
Committee discussed the proposal for using study session and whether the priorities suggested by staff are their priorities and if the meeting schedule is acceptable.
Councilor member Hardesty questioned what sorts of things staff envisions talking about in the revenue discussion. Ms. Bennett stated there are shorter-term revenue issues like fee policies and longer-term revenue issues like the tax rate and levies which need to be discussed. Ms. Bennett stated she would like to focus on priorities in these discussions rather than the specific number. The numbers will be discussed during the budget process. Councilor Hardesty voiced her support for the process.
Commissioner Eggers supported the process but feels short-term and long-term issues are more closely tied than the proposal might suggest. She hopes that the short-term discussion will bring up long-term issues and that the groups can focus on both.
Councilor Navickas stated he did not support the additional meeting because these topics are already covered in the budget process. He does appreciate including the Parks Commission but worries that it is just to help them feel better about the City taking away their funding. He stated that even though crime is going down we continue to add more police officers and we instead need to look at whether that is necessary. Ms. Bennett stated that taking away Parks funding is certainly not the intent of the meetings but both groups need to understand that they both face the same property tax revenue limits and need to work together.
Councilor Hartzell stated she supports the process. She wants to insure that there is community involvement and would like to know if the meetings will be televised. Ms. Bennett stated that it might be a challenge to fit 19 people in the council chambers for televising but reminded the group that they will always be open to the public. Councilor Hartzell wanted to make sure that part of the discussion involves talking about what services have already been reduced and how that has affected the service levels.
Commissioner Noraas has mixed feeling about the topics of the four meetings because she wonders if all the topics directly relate to the Parks Commission. Mr. Robertson stated that due to Measure 50 issues the budgets of the City and the Parks Department are more closely tied than previously. As the Parks commission doesn't regularly get to participate in the budget committee meetings this is their only opportunity to set their goals in relation to the city's goals. It will help all three groups to understand the highest priorities. Commissioner Noraas agreed that the City as a whole is changing demographics and we do need to focus on how to provide the correct services.
Councilor Jackson is excited to have these additional meeting. She stated that we need to have the discussions regarding what are our priorities prior to the budget committee meeting.
Commissioner Gardner isn't happy about the extra meetings but feels it is important to gain an understanding of both groups and their priorities. He hopes this will help to set up fairer guidelines for the budget process.
Mayor Morrison supportive of this discussion and appreciates the opportunity to set priorities so that the priorities lead the discussion rather than dollars dictating policy.
Commissioner Rosenthal is in favor of getting the opportunity to get the Parks message out to the Budget committee. Thanked Mayor Morrison and Councilor Hardesty for their service to the community. He considers the challenges of the loss of food and beverage tax and the development of parks property, maintenance in quality of service, and maintaining the ending fund balance to be the most important parts of these upcoming discussions for him. Also, the group needs to figure out how to maintain an adequate fund balance.
Councilor Silbiger thinks this is a good start to a lengthy set of meetings and prioritizations. He believes we are looking at a severe economic downturn and this is a good start to working out these issues.
Commissioner Lewis would be glad to attend the meetings as long as at least part of these discussions involves the balance of Parks/City funding. He would also like to include discussion on F&B tax.
Councilor Chapman thinks this is a positive process and the right mix of people. His only concerned about how we can structure a meeting with 19 people so that anything gets done. He hopes staff will develop a good plan.
Councilor Hartzell wanted further details about what staff sees as the outcome of these meetings. Ms. Bennett thinks each department need to come talk about what services they currently provide, how they can provide those services better, and what they are hoping to achieve in the future. The group then needs to have discussions about the relative importance of each service provided so that if reductions become necessary during the budget process staff will know where cuts may be more acceptable. Mr. Robertson stated that including the Parks in the discussion is important because they have relationships with all the departments. Councilor Hartzell would also like information about what other communities are doing regarding their provided service levels.
Meeting was adjourned at 8:43 p.m.
Diane Shiplet, Executive Secretary
John W. Morrison, Mayor