Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioners are troubled by a proposal from new City Administrator Dave Kanner that the parks department contribute $263,000 toward the city's general fund, which pays for services such as police and fire protection.

Ashland Parks and Recreation Commissioners are troubled by a proposal from new City Administrator Dave Kanner that the parks department contribute $263,000 toward the city's general fund, which pays for services such as police and fire protection.

"I don't think our parks should be the city's cash cow," said Parks Commissioner Rich Rosenthal.

Parks Commissioners voted unanimously on Monday night to support an alternative parks budget that does not include the $263,000 contribution to the city's general fund.

The Ashland Citizens Budget Committee — made up of the mayor, the Ashland City Council and seven residents — will hash out the disagreement between the city government and its quasi-independent parks department during this spring's budgeting process.

Kanner, who was hired in February and comes from Central Oregon, said the city's general fund needs more money. He is proposing a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year that includes no property tax increase.

To achieve that, the parks department will need to help bolster the general fund.

"It's a basic matter of revenues," Kanner said. "The general fund is not keeping pace with growth in expenditures. That's not unique to Ashland. It's happening everywhere."

Rather than raising taxes or fees, Kanner said it makes sense to reallocate funds.

"From an administrative point of view, tax dollars belong to all of the city of Ashland. I think most citizens see it that way," he said.

Parks Commissioner Rick Landt said Ashland residents have a more than 100-year-old tradition of supporting their parks system.

Back in 1908, voters created the parks department and gave it its own taxing authority and an elected governing body, the parks commission. A measure approved by state voters in 1997 folded the parks tax levy in with the city government's taxing authority.

However, via a "gentleman's agreement," city and parks officials have continued to split property taxes in half for parks and city coffers. There have sometimes been Budget Committee arguments over whether that should continue.

For the coming fiscal year, Kanner has proposed that the parks department continue to get half of property tax revenue. But parks commissioners believe that the equal split isn't worth much if the city then takes money from the parks department for its general fund.

"Either we continue the special relationship Ashland has had with its parks, or we erode that," Landt said. "This is that turning point."

Parks commissioners said they will likely make their case at an April 19 Budget Committee meeting.

Parks commissioners unanimously support a budget that would put $200,000 in an account to fund deferred maintenance in the parks system.

Kanner has proposed setting aside $350,000 for deferred parks system maintenance.

Parks commissioners support contributing $150,000 to a city reserve account to be used in case of emergencies. Kanner want the parks department to contribute $263,000 toward the city's general fund.

The money would come from lowering parks department reserves kept in the form of ending fund balances. The Parks Commission has a policy of keeping 30 percent of money in ending fund balances, while the Ashland City Council has a policy to keep 25 percent of money in ending fund balances, Parks Director Don Robertson said.

Robertson said the parks system has a long list of deferred maintenance projects, including repairs to the Ashland Senior Center parking lot on Homes Avenue, sidewalks at Triangle Park on Siskiyou Boulevard, and the Perozzi fountain, Enders shelter and a bridge in Lithia Park.

Kanner's proposal for a larger set-aside for deferred maintenance would give the parks department more money in the short term for those projects, Robertson said.

But lowering ending fund balance reserves would mean less money in the long-term for maintenance, he said.

The parks department is already predicting that ending fund balances will fall into negative territory over the next several years unless corrective action is taken, Robertson said.

He said tackling deferred maintenance projects over a longer time frame is preferable.

"You can't do everything all at once. It takes staff resources to manage contracts and do other work. Also, you can't have everything torn up all at once," Robertson said.

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