The deal made on Monday night must still win the approval of the Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee, but it creates a basis for city and parks officials to prepare their proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1.

There was no handshake to seal the deal, but the Ashland City Council and Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission voted unanimously to continue with a "gentleman's agreement" that gives the quasi-independent parks department almost half of city property taxes.

The deal made on Monday night must still win the approval of the Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee, but it creates a basis for city and parks officials to prepare their proposed budgets for the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1. The budgeting process itself kicks off next week.

Under the agreement, the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department would receive $2.09 per $1,000 in assessed property value for the coming fiscal year, the same it received this year.

The owner of a home assessed at $225,000 would pay $470.25 to support the parks system.

The city of Ashland would receive the remaining property taxes, which this year amounted to $2.10 per $1,000 in assessed value, or $472.50 for the owner of a home assessed at $225,000.

City Administrator Martha Bennett said she doesn't know yet whether she will submit a proposed budget that would cause the city to hit its legal property tax ceiling. The maximum the city government can charge for itself is $2.19 per $1,000 in assessed value, or $492.75 for the owner of a home assessed at $225,000.

Although the parks system roughly splits city property taxes with the rest of city government, its overall budget is far smaller.

The parks system's budget this year is $4.88 million, compared to the city's budget of $82.64 million.

City government draws income from sources such as water, sewer and electric bills, while the parks system relies mainly on property taxes plus recreation fees. The parks system also gets 1 cent out of a 5 cents-per-dollar tax on prepared food and beverages. Ashland voters renewed that tax last November.

Parks commissioners weren't happy about making an agreement that would keep their share of property taxes flat for the coming fiscal year, but they acknowledged that at least the deal provides some stability.

The property tax split would apply only to the next fiscal year.

Parks Commissioner Rich Rosenthal voted to support the agreement, but said that he is uncomfortable with the precedent it could set to keep the parks system's share of property taxes flat.

"It's all too easy to say, 'That's how we did it last year,'" he said.

Back in 1908, residents created the Ashland Parks Department and gave the department its own taxing authority. Like city councilors, parks commissioners are elected. An elected commission is an unusual governing structure for a parks department in Oregon.

State voters passed Measure 50 in 1997, which caused the parks system's independent tax levy to be rolled into the city government's taxing authority.

Parks and city officials made an informal "gentlemen's agreement" to split property taxes.

Other institutions have been less lucky. The Southern Oregon Historical Society had its own special tax that was rolled into Jackson County's taxing authority.

Jackson County commissioners eventually cut off funding to SOHS as part of a lawsuit agreement, leading the society to lay off staff and propose selling and leasing historic buildings.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.