The Ashland Budget Committee tentatively approved both the police and fire department budgets Monday night. Police asked for $5.8 million and fire $5.2 million, increases of 2 and 5 percent, respectively.

Under the proposed police budget, the department would lose one patrol officer and several part-time park patrol positions. The department proposed no new material purchases out of the general fund, choosing instead to rely on fluctuating funds distributed by the federal government that come from property seized in drug enforcement.

"We really didn't have any place else to cut except personnel," said Police Chief Terry Holderness "Given any choice, we would rather not have lost a person."

The cuts will likely reduce the department's ability to lower their response times to priority calls, he said.

An additional two officers, including a detective specializing in fraud and identity theft, could be cut if the city maintains its current property tax rate.

The city council is considering a 29 cent per $1,000 in assessed value property tax increase to meet budget shortfalls.

The loss of the positions would not result in layoffs, because the department has three vacancies, Holderness said. Because hiring officers is such a lengthy process, the department actually underspent their $5.6 million budget last year, with the actual budget coming in at $4.9 million.

Police also hope to continue implementing community policing strategies, improve data analysis and increase their work with youth, primarily through funding the school resource officer position for the first time in several years.

Fire department

The fire department proposed what Fire Chief Keith Woodley called a "subsistence" budget, asking for a 4.7 percent total increase that would keep staffing levels the same.

The department projected their requests for service would increase between 5 and 7 percent.

"Given the demographic shifts in the community, it's extremely unlikely that demand for services will regress," Division Chief Greg Case said.

The fire department proposed a $250 fee for ambulance calls that do not result in a hospital visit but require advanced life support. Only those patients who are transported to the hospital currently pay the fee, Woodley said, but the department's costs are the same for both types of calls. The fees would not be fully covered by Medicare or Medicaid, however.

If current property tax rates are maintained, the department is also slated to lose the fire inspector position along with the Community Emergency Response Team program, which trains volunteers in handling disasters. It is the only such program surviving in Southern Oregon, largely because it has a full-time coordinator, Woodley said.

Committee members sought alternatives to cutting the CERT program completely, such as reducing staffing or funding it in another department.

Clark Custodio, a CERT volunteer, urged committee members to keep the program, which has upwards of 300 members.

"Having a program such as CERT available to the city is very cost-efficient," he said. "At its core is a significant number of dedicated citizens who have been highly trained."

Due to time constraints, the community development department's budget presentation was moved to May — in the Ashland Council Chambers.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .