The Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee must grapple with whether to approve $1.3 million worth of add-ons to the city budget, including up to $100,000 for a downtown study, $100,000 for a homeless help center, and salaries and benefits for a new fire inspector and code compliance officer.
The committee is in the midst of scrutinizing a proposed $200.6 million two-year budget for city government.
While it has the power to make cuts or additions to the whole budget, the committee historically has exercised the most power over so-called "add packages," which typically represent new spending.
This year, add packages total $1,328,758 for the proposed biennial budget that starts on July 1.
In past years, the add packages were not part of the proposed budget, and the budget committee had to vote to add them in.
This year, the add packages are built into the proposed budget, and the budget committee must vote to cut them out, if it wishes to do so.
If the committee approves spending for a downtown study, City Administrator Dave Kanner said, Ashland may be able to get the work done for half of the $100,000 earmarked in the budget for the plan by tapping faculty and students at an Oregon university to help craft a plan.
Kanner said the downtown study would look at vehicle parking, the issue of trucks parking in the street to make deliveries and other topics, including pedestrian, vehicle and bicycle circulation.
"If a big truck is making a delivery and blocks a lane, things can really back up," he said.
During its goal-setting session for this year, Ashland City Council wanted the city to look at zoning for downtown and surrounding areas to see whether there is an appropriate mix of uses to support the area, Kanner said.
Funding for the downtown study would come out of a $247,725 pool of money designated for downtown parking, payments on the downtown Hargadine parking garage and capital improvements. The revenue comes from parking-garage receipts and parking tickets, Kanner said.
As for the center to help homeless people and others in need, Ashland City Council has already voted to offer $100,000 spread over two years for a social services group to step forward and launch a center.
The budget committee — which is made up of the six-member council, the mayor and seven residents — must authorize that spending.
A fire inspector would cost $63,583 in the first year of the biennial budget and $67,800 in the second.
A code compliance officer would cost $56,415 in year one and $59,236 in year two.
Ashland once had both a fire inspector and a code compliance officer, but those positions were cut several years ago.
In the past, the city's code compliance efforts generated animosity in the business community when the city cracked down on sign-code violations, forcing businesses to stop displaying objects outside, such as a giant teddy bear and a waiter statue.
The lodging industry is now lobbying for reinstatement of a code compliance officer. Owners of local hotels, bed-and-breakfast inns and vacation homes argue that many residents are illegally allowing tourists to pay for short stays in their homes.
Websites that connect tourists with homeowners have allowed the practice to boom. Those residents don't undergo inspections and don't pay the city's 9 percent lodging tax.
"The absence of an enforcement officer has signaled to everyone in town that it's possible and lucrative to run an illegal lodging establishment," said Ellen Campbell, a member of the Ashland Lodging Association.
Some residents have said they have turned to using their homes as tourist accommodations to bring in much-needed income.
Vacation-home rentals are allowed in some zones and under certain conditions.
Other add packages under consideration for the two-year budget include $145,000 for a new city phone system, $106,000 to replace an old fire truck, $50,000 for a water-rate study, $30,000 for a street-rate study and $10,000 for a trails master plan.
Three extra add packages — which are not part of the $1.3 million for the main batch of add packages — are proposed for the second year of the biennium, but only if funding is available and is likely to be sustainable, according to the budget document.
Those extras include $96,338 for a new police officer for one year, $107,453 for a new firefighter for one year and $10,000 for a new email system.
Ashland's firefighters double as emergency medical technicians and go out on ambulance calls.
The budget committee will meet at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22, in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St., to adopt a budget and set the city property tax rate.
Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.