The Ashland City Council will consider raising property taxes within the city at a special meeting starting at 3 p.m. Friday, June 30.
This comes after the Citizens Budget Committee and council opted not to raise taxes in adopting a final budget despite a motion to do so by Councilor Tracy Darrow who reminded the committee that a promise had been made to the Ashland Police Department to hire five more police officers. The cost is estimated at $550,000 according to APD’s Chief Tighe O’Meara.
The property tax increase would be nine cents per $1,000 dollars in assessed valuation, which amounts to about 45 dollars per year for the average $500,000 house in Ashland. Even if the council opts to raise the taxes, it would not cover the total cost of the officers. The city estimates it would bring in roughly $288,000 and more would need to be raised from other possible fees, including a one dollar per month increase on utilities which has been discussed but not passed in council meetings.
In considering a public meeting to consider raising taxes the council was staunchly divided. Councilor Greg Lemhouse was opposed to raising taxes with or without the public meeting. “I feel if we raised taxes now it would go against the spirit of the budget committee,” he said.
Throughout the process, the committee itself raised concerns about how citizen panel member recommendations were received by council members. The budget panel is made up of the seven council members, plus seven citizen committee members.
“This week's vote is just another step in a dysfunctional year that has huge negative implications for our city," said Citizens Budget Committee Chair Dave Runkel. "Who's going to be able to afford living in Ashland? Not those on low, moderate and fixed incomes.”
Runkel continued, “The mayor and some on the council appear to be ready to take a step — overturning a decision of the Citizens Budget Committee — that has never been done before in Ashland and is so rarely done in the state that top Revenue Department local budgeting experts couldn’t cite a single example.”
Darrow, however, suggested in the June 20 council meeting where the public hearing was set that an ordinance had been passed to hire more officers and no revenue to do it has been identified. She said it would be important for everyone to pay their share of the cost, she told the council on June 20. “I think it’s a fair way to start funding police rather than putting all the pressure on utility rates and other fees. This spreads it more evenly through the community.”
Runkel disagrees with increasing revenue to hire more police officers. “The mayor and council should look at cutting spending instead of raising taxes and utility rates to pay for additional police officers," he said. "Citizen Budget Committee members offered a half dozen or so ways to cut spending on June 5, but the mayor and council voted en bloc against all, and at times personally insulting the sponsors.”
Friday's public hearing will be held in the Council Chambers at 1175 East Main St. The public the opportunity for more input on what it thinks a possible solution might be. The city’s fiscal year begins Saturday, July 1.
— Email Ashland freelance writer Julie Akins at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/@julieakins.