Former Ashland Mayor Alan DeBoer says he's challenging current Mayor John Stromberg in the November election because he believes the city is headed in the wrong direction on multiple fronts.
Stromberg is seeking re-election to a second four-year term. Other challengers have yet to emerge.
DeBoer served four years as mayor beginning in 2001, during which he presided over several large-scale construction projects. He did not seek re-election.
DeBoer, co-owner of the Town & Country Chevrolet dealership on Ashland's northern outskirts, said he opposes the city's plans this fall to reduce the number of car lanes on North Main Street to make more room for bike lanes.
DeBoer also opposes a proposal in the city's draft Transportation System Plan to reduce the number of car lanes downtown. The plan says the lane reduction would be carried out if certain conditions are met, including that it not harm the downtown economy.
DeBoer said the moves would make driving difficult in Ashland and would hurt the economy. He said some people believe that making traffic unbearable will force people out of their cars and improve conditions for cyclists and pedestrians, but he doesn't agree with that theory.
"I feel it's an absolute disaster," he said. "We need to work to create jobs so our kids can afford to live here."
DeBoer objects to the $416,740 cost of the city's Transportation System Plan, which is being crafted with the aid of non-local consultants. Grants are covering half the cost, city officials said.
Rather than paying for outside consultants, DeBoer said Ashland should tap into the expertise of local residents who could serve on temporary committees.
DeBoer said the city has been paying too much money for plans that sit on a shelf, rather than using money for on-the-ground work.
DeBoer also disagrees with a recent City Council decision to forgo building a permanent water line to Medford's water system via an intertie to the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix pipeline.
"The intertie should have been done a long time ago," DeBoer said, adding that residents, homes, businesses and Ashland's economy are all at risk if a natural disaster knocks the city's vulnerable water treatment plant out of commission. The plant, located in the Ashland Watershed, is at risk from floods and wildfires.
A citizen committee recommended building a water intertie to be used only for emergencies, not to permanently augment the city's water supply. Citizens said that holding off on the full intertie could save Ashland money, and the City Council agreed with that reasoning.
For his part, Stromberg — a self-employed organization and management consultant — said he is seeking re-election for a second term as mayor because Ashland has accomplished much, but still has more to do.
"I'm running because I have an enormous enthusiasm for Ashland and the people who live here, work here and visit here," he said. "We have three communities that overlap each other."
Stromberg said the Ashland Forest Resiliency Project is off to a good start, with more work to do. The project to thin wildfire fuels in the Ashland Watershed is a partnership of the U.S. Forest Service, the city of Ashland, The Nature Conservancy and Lomakatsi Restoration Project.
The City Council has adopted a new water master plan, which includes the emergency water line intertie and other infrastructure improvements.
"That will make sure we have a secure source of drinking water," Stromberg said.
The city also has a new sewer master plan.
Stromberg said carrying out the infrastructure improvements detailed in the plans gradually over time will prevent water and sewer rate spikes that would hit the community hard.
Earlier this year, the council approved the ratcheting up of rates that could lead to a doubling of water and sewer rates over the next decade. Increases must be reviewed anew and approved each year.
Stromberg said the city is also beginning to carry out its new economic development strategy that emphasizes Ashland's quality of life as an enticement to entrepreneurs. The strategy also calls for diversifying Ashland's economy beyond tourism.
Stromberg said the city government has a good working relationship with the Ashland Chamber of Commerce.
Challenges ahead include reining in city employee health insurance costs, perhaps by switching to a model in which the city government insures employees, Stromberg said.
He said the city has taken steps to support local food production but can still do more. He also supports efforts to boost the amount of capital available for local ventures.
Stromberg said he has been striving to improve how city officials and residents interact with each other.
"I think it's created an atmosphere of respectful listening with less anger," he said.
The deadline for filing candidate applications for the Nov. 6 election with the City Recorder's Office is Aug. 23.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.