During this year’s budget-building process, as a member of the Budget Committee and the City Council, I took the unprecedented step to propose an “add-on” package for the 2015-2017 budget. This is an unusual action for a committee member to take. Proposed additions to the budget are historically proposed by city staff. I want to explain what motivated me and what’s next.
For years, our wonderful city has struggled to answer important questions:
How do we make our town more affordable to live in?
How do we attract more families with school-aged children to live here?
How can the city help independent bodies such as Southern Oregon University and the Ashland School District accomplish their missions?
It’s frustrating we have not been able to address these questions better. I am committed to do so.
My plan is straightforward. I do not believe it exists in any other Oregon city: If you attend Ashland High School for three years, graduate and are accepted into SOU, you will be awarded a scholarship to attend SOU. Funds would be evenly divided each year among successful applicants, who would have to use the funds during the school year immediately following graduation from AHS. The total amount allocated by the city would be $50,000 annually.
AHS and SOU have been enthusiastic about the proposal, recognizing it would help motivate students to stay home to attend SOU.
The straightforward details can be reviewed as part of the proposal I submitted to the committee. I would, of course, be happy to expand on them at anyone’s request.
I feel such a program would address the above three questions. While it will always be a struggle to lower the cost of living in our town, I believe we can add value, so residents or prospective residents can make the calculation that living here is worth it because of services received and overall quality of life.
The same applies to people deciding on Ashland as a place to raise families. A family should see Ashland as an innovative community that values education and supports families in ways other cities do not.
And, with “open enrollment” available to all high school students in Oregon, our top-notch school district will benefit as families that live outside Ashland enroll children in our school district if the guarantee of college assistance is possible for their child. This increase in students leads to growth of good-paying jobs, which also benefits our community.
As a city we look for ways to support institutional partners. What better way to show support for their missions than by incentivizing families to send their children to them for an education?
I proposed the committee fund the program with a very small (2 cents per $1,000) increase in property taxes — essentially the cost of a sandwich each year for my fellow property owners.
I have not been one to advocate a raise in property taxes. I did so because I believe the program adds value to our community and continues our long-standing investment in education.
I made my presentation to the committee without fanfare. Why not pack the room with supporters to influence the committee? I chose not to out of respect for the committee. I feel a proposal should stand on its merits, not the noise surrounding it. I was honored that SOU Associate Vice President for Enrollment and Retention Lisa Garcia-Hanson and award-winning AHS Principal Michelle Zundel spoke in support.
While I was disappointed the committee did not support the proposal, I respect their decision. I received positive feedback and encouragement. I will try to find other ways to fund the proposal and win support. I believe in the power of our community to lead other communities in innovative solutions and commitment to youth education.
I welcome any fellow citizens who support this quest. Please provide me with any insight or feedback.
Greg Lemhouse is a member of the Ashland City Council.