MINUTES FOR THE STUDY SESSION
ASHLAND CITY COUNCIL
Monday, August 31, 2015
Siskiyou Room, 51 Winburn Way
Mayor Stromberg called the meeting to order at 5:30 p.m. in the Siskiyou Room.
Councilor Rosenthal, Voisin, Marsh, Morris, Lemhouse, and Seffinger were present.
Huelz Gutcheon/2253 Hwy 99/
- Public Input
China had twice as much greenhouse gas emissions than the United States. However, the United States had more per capita. The president wanted greenhouse gas emissions reduced 20% by 2030. He recommended watching President Obamaís talk at the Natural Clean Energy Summit on YouTube.
2. Look Ahead review
City Administrator Dave Kanner reviewed items on the Look Ahead.
3. Discussion of City Recorder charter amendment
City Administrator Dave Kanner explained Council needed to review the information on changing the City Recorder position from elected to appointed and decide next steps if any. Alternately, some of the content in the City Charter was outdated and required updating.
Councilor Marsh addressed the Charter Commission that previously reviewed potential changes to the Charter and explained the commission never put a vote to the public. The City Recorder did not support changing the position to appointed at that time and the Commission did move forward knowing that information.
City Recorder Barbra Christensen explained it was an honor to serve the community as the elected City Recorder and Treasurer. She respectfully disagreed with the comments and opinion presented by the City Administrator but understood his reasons. She provided examples that showed her office was its own department and worked intricately with all City departments as well as banking and treasury management services. Independent judgement was important in the office and being able to make decisions based on law or information she had was part of the position.
She understood the concerns and issues on having the position appointed or elected. She had full confidence in the community. They were aware of who they elected into office. There was never an elected City Recorder unable to fulfill the duties of this office. Charter provisions allowed the Council to remove a Recorder not able to perform the duties.
The position and duties had evolved over the past twenty years. She was willing to discuss retaining some of the duties but reluctant to change the position from elected to appointed. It was important to have the advantage of a full time elected official at City Hall, to be impartial and autonomous. It was a perceived sense of security for the citizens and an honored historical part of the history. Having an elected city recorder was not normal in Oregon but was in other states throughout the country. If there were cons, they should figure out a way to resolve them. She wanted the office better utilized and to be part of the team like any other department. Since the Recorderís office was intricately involved with other departments, receiving updates on future projects would be helpful. Ms. Christensen attended Department Head meetings in the past but had not for several years.
The City Charter defined Recorder responsibilities while City Treasurer duties were written in the Charter regarding bonds and in the Ashland Municipal Code (AMC). Currently, banking was electronic, complicated, and had evolved almost into its own entity.
Ms. Christensen used an incident with a former City Administrator who did not follow contract rules as an example where an elected Recorder position was beneficial. A series of records requests through her office unveiled misconduct issuing contracts by the City Administrator at that time.
Council asked what Ms. Christensen thought about having the Recorder position appointed by the Mayor and Council. Ms. Christensen supported that slightly more than appointment by the City Administrator. The community ultimately made the decision. She thought whatever was decided had to have full support of the Council.
City Attorney Dave Lohman thought it might be possible to establish minimum qualifications for an elected position.
Council comment observed the Recorder position had been elected for over one hundred years without issue. Response noted the position was salaried, had evolved over time, and required qualifying skills. Council discussed forming a subcommittee to determine whether the position should be appointed or remain elected and possibly shifting duties to other departments. If a change went to the voters, it should go on a special election versus a primary, possibly with the school board election May 2017. Some Councilors did not support making the position appointed but were interested in possibly separating duties through an ordinance.
Mr. Lohman addressed establishing qualifications through an ordinance and clarified the Charter could not be overridden by an ordinance.
Council majority supported forming a subcommittee to review appointing the Recorderís position or keeping it elected and reviewing current duties. The subcommittee would also clean up areas in the Charter that required updating. Ms. Christensen would be a part of the subcommittee with the Mayor, one councilor, and citizens. The Mayor and Council discussed a subcommittee versus an ad hoc committee and decided on an ad hoc committee. Ms. Christensen suggested the City Administrator be part of the ad hoc committee as well.
4. Ashland Fire & Rescue operational and staffing information
Mayor Stromberg explained this was part two of the discussion begun at the August 3, 2015 Study Session regarding Ashland Fire & Rescue (AF&R). There was a core conflict between fire and emergency services and medical transport. Part 2 of the discussion encompassed options to resolve staffing through possibly adjusting, consolidating, or eliminating functions. Fire Chief John Karns explained the primary issue was not having enough staff to respond appropriately to the call load. For second or third alarm fires, AF&R used resources from Fire District 3 and Fire District 5. However, call load and staffing issues occurred daily.
There were three ways to address staffing and the increased call load. One was hire more personnel for line duty. The second was reduce the call load. The third was researching the possibility of replacing the municipal department with a special district concept where Fire District 5 absorbed AF&R or created a new special district with Fire District 5.
Funding for a Special District used taxes between the district and the taxpayer. The municipal property tax would decrease and the net funding would be greater. City Administrator Dave Kanner clarified the district would have a maximum tax rate set by the ballot measure that created the district. The City had no way of reducing Ashlandís permanent tax rate. Any reduction in taxes the City collected would be voluntary and an annual or biennial budget decision. Chief Karns further clarified a special district would help fund the department and provide the resource level needed.
Battalion Chief David Shepherd explained AF&R and Fire District 5 requested support for one another weekly. Mr. Kanner clarified only taxpayers in Fire District 5 pay Fire District 5 taxes. County taxes did not pay for the district. Ambulance service was not a tax-based system. It was a fee for service system.
Refusing the non-emergent transport would result in lost revenue. Mercy Flights might be interested in taking over that call load but would not reimburse AF&R. Mercy Flights had similar resource challenges as well.
Chief Karns thought going to an 8-10 staffing level would keep initial costs down and provided a benefit of having ten people on duty during certain times. It was not a resolution but a reasonable starting point until the department was at a 9-10 staffing level. Currently AF&R was at 8-9 staffing level. Due to vacation time, AF&R allowed two employees off on any given day leaving a staff of seven. The department paid an employee overtime to maintain an eight person staffing level. The 8-10 staffing level would allow two people off without incurring overtime. An 8-10 staffing level meant hiring three firefighters, one for each shift and would eliminate 5,300 hours paid in overtime that totaled $317,000. Salary and benefits for an entry-level firefighter was $109,000 with a step increase at six months. The appropriate staffing level for AF&R was 10-11.
Going to a special district could cause the City to lose programs like the Fire Adapted Communities, emergency management preparedness, and fire inspections. A special district formed within Ashland would enable the programs to remain. Special districts minimized duplication of services and having borderless departments maximized resource deployment. Consultant costs to analyze the potential of forming a special district were approximately $40,000.
Mr. Kanner noted other options that included hiring new employees at a level who were not certified but were Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) that did nothing but drive ambulances. Chief Karns explained transports required paramedics by contract. AFR transported approximately 1,700 people a year. Another option Mr. Kanner suggested was contracting with Fire District 5 to provide fire and emergency medical services (EMS). To have a viable fire department long-term required adding staff and that would be expensive. In the current budget process, it was a $1,000,000 in add package requests and there was not enough funds. The City needed to focus on what was most critical at that time and preference was given to those things that did not incur ongoing costs beyond the current budget cycle. The present discussion on AF&R had implications for the next budget cycle and possibly the budget following. The City had outgrown its ability to fund the fire department at an adequate level. The demand for service had outgrown the available money.
Reducing the call load would eliminate the ambulance transport service with an approximate loss of $671,000 in revenue. AF&R would still be understaffed. Response times would be similar. The time difference would occur with the transporting resource.
Council wanted information and options on forming a special district, merging with Fire District 5, a residential fire sprinkler ordinance, and achieving a staff level of 8-10 that included where the money would come from and what programs might get cut.
Meeting adjourned at 7:20 p.m.
Assistant to the City Recorder