The Ashland City Council has added residents with extensive financial experience in business and government to the Citizens Budget Committee.




Under state law, seven residents join the six-member City Council and the mayor to form a budget committee with an equal number of residents and elected officials. The budget committee scrutinizes the city of Ashland budget and decides what spending to approve or cut.




On Tuesday night, the City Council appointed certified public accountant and Southern Oregon University instructor Dennis Slattery to the budget committee. Active in the business community, Slattery is husband to Ashland Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sandra Slattery.




The Council also selected Dr. Allen Douma, who has worked for health-related companies and oversaw a $4 billion budget as director of the Oregon Medicaid program.




Lynn Thompson, this year's chair of the budget committee, was reappointed. During the spring budgeting process, Thompson drew praise for the way she ran meetings in an even-handed manner. She also convinced fellow committee members to cut $570,000 in spending to help make Ashland Fiber Network debt payments. That move dampened a property tax increase, resulting in $153 in savings for the owner of a home assessed at $300,000.




Dennis Slattery said he appreciates the council choices.




"I think it's a strong centrist kind of move," he said. "Lynn has a great reputation for the work she did as chair. Allen Douma is a top-notch individual. We all bring good skills to focus on helping Ashland be the best community we can be."




The City Council chose not to reappoint accountant and long-time budget committee member Martin Levine, who for years was critical of the Ashland Fiber Network as it sank into debt. Levine also questioned the city's practice of providing consistent funding for the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department without prioritizing that spending against other needs.




For several years, the City Council has been cycling out budget committee members who have already served.




That brings in fresh perspectives, but new appointees are generally less outspoken during the two to three years it takes them to gain a solid understanding of the city's myriad departments and the overall $90 million to $100 million annual budget.




Former Mayor Cathy Shaw, former Councilor Don Laws, retired behavioral health administrator Suzanne Frey and Medford Police Sergeant Greg Lemhouse &

who narrowly lost in a 2006 City Council race &

were not selected from a field Mayor John Morrison described as well qualified.




The appointments came as the city readies for another challenging budgeting process in 2008.




Driven in part by rising health care, retirement and petroleum products costs, growth in expenses is outpacing growth in revenues, said Finance and Administrative Services Director Lee Tuneberg.




Similar issues are facing government agencies and businesses alike, he said.




Some city departments endured cuts this fiscal year to help pay the Ashland Fiber Network's debt of $15.3 million. In addition to paying interest, the city of Ashland paid $195,000 on the balance this summer to whittle down the debt from $15.5 million.




With slowing construction, the Community Development Department brought in $800,000 less from building fees.




Tuneberg said Slattery, Douma and Thompson have good credentials.




"I think they were good candidates and apparently so did the council because they selected those three," Tuneberg said.




He noted that Oregon budget law does not require budget committee members to have financial experience.




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