The city of Ashland has proposed a $200.6 million, two-year budget that keeps city property tax rates flat but increases electric, water and sewer rates.
The Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee will hear an overview of the budget as well as presentations from the Parks and Recreation Department and the Police Department at a meeting that starts at 6 p.m. today in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.
It kicks off a series of spring meetings to review and ultimately approve a final budget.
This is the first time Ashland has tried biennial budgeting. Budgets were previously prepared, scrutinized and adopted annually and hovered around $100 million per year.
Under the proposed budget, electric rates would rise 5.3 percent in the coming fiscal year while water and sewer rates would each increase by 9 percent.
Keeping the city property tax rate flat at $4.20 per $1,000 in assessed value would cost the owner of a home assessed at $245,000 — the median in Ashland — $1,029 annually.
In a major budgeting shift, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department would no longer receive half of city property taxes.
The proposed budget gives $8.8 million to parks rather than the $9.4 million the department would receive from half of property taxes.
However, that money is enough to fund all parks programs at current service levels and also includes $587,000 for maintenance projects, according to the budget document.
The budget changes will result in a draw-down of the parks department's ending fund balance.
At the close of the two years, the parks department will have about $750,000 in its ending fund balance, rather than the $1.5 million to $2 million it would have if it kept getting half of property taxes, according to Ashland Administrative Services and Finance Director Lee Tuneberg.
The elected Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission is fighting the budget changes, arguing that the parks department will lose its historical semi-independent status and the commission will lose control over how parks money is spent.
The proposed budget includes a number of additions that the Budget Committee may choose to approve or chop from the budget.
The committee will also consider whether to approve using $100,000 in reserve funds to pay for a help center for homeless people and others in need.
The city of Ashland plans to shift to self-insuring its employees, thus avoiding a more than 20 percent spike in health insurance rates over a two-year period.
However, the city is being hit by a 31 percent increase in the money it must pay into the Public Employees Retirement System.
While the proposed budget includes no city property tax increase, staff members said raising taxes to their maximum allowable level and putting the money in the reserve fund or toward Ashland Watershed forest thinning would be prudent.
Pushing regular city property taxes to their legal limit would cost the owner of a home assessed at $245,000 another $22.12 annually.
The legal tax limit does not include separate levies that residents vote to impose on themselves.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.