The city of Ashland is applying for more than $5.6 million in federal economic stimulus funds that could help pay for transportation, police, fire department, sewer, water and stormdrain needs.

The city of Ashland is applying for more than $5.6 million in federal economic stimulus funds that could help pay for transportation, police, fire department, sewer, water and stormdrain needs.

Public Works Director Mike Faught said he is already fairly certain that the city will get $458,000 for street overlay projects. The state, which is administering those federal stimulus funds, has to give its final approval.

"Our goal is to take advantage of all federal stimulus opportunities," he said. "We're going after funding aggressively."

The state has invited Ashland to submit $4 million worth of funding requests for water system projects, he said.

The city's request for $500,000 to help pay for new sewage treatment plant filters has been ranked well by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, Faught said.

On Tuesday night, the Ashland City Council approved a 10 percent water rate increase and a 20 percent sewer rate hike to pay for existing overhead.

Without economic stimulus funding, future rate increases would likely have to be even greater because buying new sewage plant filters and improving the water reservoir system are high priorities, Faught said.

The stimulus money could help pay for those high priority projects.

The city is seeking $77,000 for stormdrain projects, and $100,000 to retrofit diesel engines with devices that would reduce emissions, Faught said.

Ashland Fiber Network staff are seeking $250,000 to bring Wi Max wireless Internet service to the city and surrounding rural areas, according to Interim Information Technology Director Michael Ainsworth.

Fire and police

The city could apply for money to replace Ashland Fire Station No. 2 on Ashland Street.

In 2006, voters rejected a bond that would have paid for that station's replacement at a cost of up to $5.5 million.

City Management Analyst Ann Seltzer said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, is still working out the process for awarding grants that are meant to help communities upgrade existing fire stations or build new ones.

Because voters rejected the $5.5 million project to replace Fire Station No. 2, the city would probably seek money for a scaled-down version, she said.

Many voters criticized the 2006 fire station plan as too elaborate. The new fire station also would have intruded onto nearby Sherwood Park.

On Tuesday night, the Ashland City Council gave permission to the Ashland Police Department to apply for a grant that would pay for a community policing officer for three years.

However, that money comes with expensive strings attached.

The grant would provide $75,000 each year for three years to pay for an officer. The full cost of salary and benefits for an officer is about $85,000 per year, City Administrator Martha Bennett said.

In the fourth year, Ashland would have to pay for the officer on its own.

The costs to the city for that one officer over the four years would be about $115,000.

An even more significant issue is that the grant requires the city to maintain its current police staffing level plus the extra officer for four years. If the city had a major financial problem, it couldn't scale back its police force during those years.

Although Ashland has a low violent crime rate, it could be in a good position to get the money if other cities shy away from the grant opportunity, Police Chief Terry Holderness said.

"A lot of communities are going to be very, very leery of applying for this grant," he said.

The Ashland Police Department once had 30 officers, but now is down to 26 officers.

The city would have to maintain staffing levels at 27 officers for four years if it received the grant, Bennett said.

City Councilor Eric Navickas was the only councilor to vote against seeking the grant funding for an added police officer.

"I can't support this. We're not in a situation where we can commit to maintaining the police force for four years. In a town with petty crime, I'd rather maintain our fire department and emergency services and the planning department over police," he said.

But Councilor Greg Lemhouse, who is a police officer with the Medford Police Department, countered, "One of the reasons we enjoy a low violent crime rate is because of the job our police department does."

He said crime increases with insufficient police numbers, and Ashland's department is already understaffed.

Councilors Lemhouse, Russ Silbiger, Kate Jackson, Carol Voisin and David Chapman voted to apply for funding for the police officer.

Holderness said the police department also plans to apply for $22,000 in federal funds that could pay for needs like equipment and park patrols.

Conservation

Electric Department Director Dick Wanderscheid said the state is still working out stimulus grant opportunities for conservation.

Wanderscheid said the city would likely apply for money to do even more with its existing conservation programs.

The city has a broad range of electricity and water conservation programs, and also supports solar power and environmentally friendly new construction.

The electricity conservation program alone has proven so effective that Ashland has maintained flat per capita electricity use since 1982 despite the proliferation of computers, microwaves, air conditioners and other electronics and appliances.

Meanwhile, average per capita energy use in America has nearly doubled since 1982.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.