The Ashland City Council hopes to build up the city's savings for emergencies without increasing fees or taxes, but some members question the timing because of the poor economy.

The Ashland City Council hopes to build up the city's savings for emergencies without increasing fees or taxes, but some members question the timing because of the poor economy.

The council on Monday voted to increase ending fund balance targets to provide money for emergencies based on a recommendation from Finance Director Lee Tuneberg. The city would need $3.34 million more in the coming fiscal year to hit the targets he recommended as financially prudent.

The council directed Tuneberg to develop plans for hitting different targets, allowing up to five years for the financially weak funds to reach them.

Some targets may be easier than others.

The parks and recreation fund's target is $1.23 million, but it's already projected to have a comfortable ending fund balance of $1.3 million at the end of this fiscal year on June 30.

In contrast, the debt fund — which is used to make payments on city debts — will end the year with a projected $1.15 million ending fund balance. Its new target is $2.4 million.

City Councilor Russ Silbiger said establishing higher savings targets is sound fiscal policy. He said how to phase in the higher savings rates will be a matter for further council discussion.

"We may not get there," he said. "We should at least try."

He and Councilors Greg Lemhouse, Kate Jackson and David Chapman voted in favor of developing plans for phasing in the higher savings rates.

"Zero to five years is prudent," Lemhouse said. "I won't support aggressive raising of fees and taxes. I will look to control spending."

Councilors Eric Navickas and Carol Voisin voted against the proposal.

Voisin said that even without putting aside more money for savings, the city is projecting a 5 percent increase on sewer bills and an increase of at least 6 percent on water bills. It may also seek a property tax increase.

She said increasing the savings rate is not appropriate during an economically troubled time when the city's revenues are down.

"It will mean we raise taxes and fees or we're going to lay people off," Voisin said.

Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee Chairwoman Lynn Thompson said the setting of ending fund balances is the job of the Budget Committee.

Thompson said she shares the goal of fiscal stability for the city government, but building up savings may not be a priority in a recessionary environment.

"How are we going to rob Peter to pay Paul to fund that?" she asked.

The Budget Committee is made up of the City Council, Mayor John Stromberg and seven residents.

The committee will hold its kick-off meeting for this year's budgeting process at 6 p.m. Feb. 18 in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

Budget Committee members will give city staff guidelines for preparing the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year and set the schedule of meetings for the budgeting process.

The budget approved for the current fiscal year was $82.64 million. That figure changes slightly as adjustments are made during the year.

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