City services that only enhance the quality of life here are first on the chopping block during these tight budget times.

City services that only enhance the quality of life here are first on the chopping block during these tight budget times, and as Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission Chair Michael Gardiner noted about the parks department, "We are in the quality of life business."

The Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee has adopted a set of priorities for what city services to spare. The highest priority list includes services required by law, those related to emergency response and basic public health and welfare needs.

In a presentation to the Budget Committee on Thursday night, Gardiner said parks do help preserve residents' health and welfare.

The medium priority list includes services that support the health of the local economy, protect the environment and are only provided by the government — not private businesses or nonprofit groups.

He said that parks help keep the economy strong, citizens healthy and crime rates low.

"Ask the Oregon Shakespeare Festival what Lithia Park means to them," Gardiner said.

The Parks Department is proposing a $4.88 million budget for the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1. That's down from this fiscal year's projected budget of $4.89 million.

In December 2008, the department cut two parks maintenance workers as part of a round of city cuts to deal with the faltering economy.

For the coming fiscal year, the department is proposing to cut another parks maintenance worker.

That means less grass mowing, restroom cleaning and litter pick-up. Trail maintenance will suffer, followed by care of other parks and then finally Lithia Park, Ashland's signature park, Gardiner said.

The Parks Department plans to increase rental rates for its facilities that are used for weddings and other events.

The Oak Knoll Public Golf Course brought in only enough money to cover 83 percent of its operations, according to parks staff.

"Once we implement food service out there, I think we will close that gap significantly," Parks Director Don Robertson said.

According to the budget document for the coming fiscal year, the department will cut costs by delaying development of Ashland Creek Park, which is also known as the Vogel property, into a future fiscal year.

Parks employees are receiving no cost-of-living raises, fewer seasonal employees will be hired and the department is consolidating its vehicle maintenance with the city of Ashland. Additionally, the department is renegotiating its grounds maintenance contract with the Ashland School District so that the department is not subsidizing the school district.

The nonprofit Ashland Parks Foundation, which supports the department, lost money on its investments during the economic downturn. That means there is less money available to fund scholarships to help low-income kids, adults and senior citizens take part in parks department classes and activities that require fees, Robertson said.

Parks supporters may plan some type of event to raise scholarship money, such as a golf tournament, he said.

In 2010, the Ashland tax on restaurant meals and beverages expires. Without a renewal of that 5 percent tax, the parks department will not be able to buy any more park land, Robertson said.

The city would have to sell park property in order to buy any new land, he said.

In the next three weeks, the Citizens' Budget Committee will hear a series of presentations from different city department staff about their proposed budgets, and then make decisions about what to cut and what to spare.

The overall proposed city budget for the coming fiscal year is $80.9 million, down from the adopted budget of $95.2 million this year. The city is saving money primarily by delaying infrastructure projects, as well as by cutting staff.

For the schedule of budget meetings, visit www.ashland.or.us/News.asp?NewsID=1831.

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