Ashland City Administrator Martha Bennett is recommending the creation of an assistant city administrator position that would cost $160,000 annually for salary and benefits.

Ashland City Administrator Martha Bennett is recommending the creation of an assistant city administrator position that would cost $160,000 annually for salary and benefits.

The cost would be offset by eliminating an electric department director position, which has been vacant throughout 2010 and into this year. The annual cost for that position is $145,000 in salary and benefits.

Bennett has not included the assistant city administrator position in her proposed $94 million city government budget that is now in the hands of the Citizens' Budget Committee.

The new position is one of four "add-ons" that city staff recommend the Budget Committee consider for approval. City managers culled through 50 additions proposed by city departments before settling on four.

Bennett said that a decade ago, Ashland had a city administrator, assistant city administrator, administrative services director and finance director.

It now has only Bennett and Lee Tuneberg, who is doing double-duty as finance director and administrative services director.

Bennett said she is stretched too thin to adequately supervise all the city's departments, while also interacting with the mayor, City Council and community members.

"It's unrealistic to expect a person to cover everything — and with a $94 million operation, I don't think it's a good idea," she said.

If approved, the assistant city administrator would oversee the electric department, among other duties, she said.

As a second "add-on," Bennett is recommending creation of a new conservation manager position, which would cost $112,000 annually for salary and benefits.

To pay for that, the city would eliminate the job of a project manager who has been guiding the creation of an Ashland economic development plan.

Bennett said the city is undertaking a number of conservation initiatives.

The third "add-on" would be hiring a temporary person at $30,000 to deal with weed abatement issues.

The 2010 Oak Knoll fire that destroyed 11 homes, and another 2010 fire that was contained before it destroyed houses, were low-elevation fires that burned through overgrown, dry vegetation.

City of Ashland staff already tackle weed issues, but have focused most of their efforts on the hills above town where homes blend into the forest.

The final recommended "add-on" is $85,000 for an urban renewal plan if the City Council decides to create an urban renewal district.

The city is in the midst of a feasibility study to see whether an urban renewal district would work financially. The council approved spending $30,000 to $35,000 in 2010 for that study.

The city would borrow money to build infrastructure, then hope to recoup that money because of increased property taxes from new development in an urban renewal district.

A district could be formed at the former Croman Mill site east of Tolman Creek Road, along the railroad tracks in central Ashland or downtown.

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