ACES Letter to Mayor & Council – Challenging Times for Ashland

ACES – Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability             

April 5, 2020

Dear Mayor and Ashland City Council:

We represent a number of citizens who were deeply concerned about the fiscal status and economic health of the city of Ashland before the advent of Covid-19.  Now, we’ve seen little to no action on the part of the council and mayor to address the financial tsunami about to hit us.   In fact, the only action taken by the Council since it declared a state of emergency a month ago was to officially place an $8.2 million bond request on the May primary ballot.

Our “shadow” government may, once again, be working behind the scenes developing a plan.  However, if so, there has been no relevant communication with Ashland citizens and they are, once again, not part of the process.  This lack of transparency combined with a lack of responsible fiscal policy underscores and reinforces our mounting distress.

As a result, Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability (ACES) is offering specific actions that could mitigate the pending financial disaster.  We urge you to seriously consider the following ideas that address the city government fiscal crisis and also help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our citizens, businesses and their workers.

  • Put all CIP projects on hold including city hall, the water treatment plant and Park’s swimming pool.
  • Freeze all non-essential spending until the end of the year, including outside consultants.
  • Freeze all hiring until the end of the year, especially senior management positions.  Eliminate the Assistant City Administrator position and furlough non-essential staff.
  • Put a cap on total payroll, freezing it at its current level for fiscal year 2020/21.
  • Eliminate overtime.
  • Freeze all purchases of equipment and don’t allocate any additional dollars to the equipment fund.
  • Reduce allocations to the Parks Department until the crisis is over.
  • Provide utility relief to citizens by waiving all taxes, surcharges and fees for the next 3 months.   Do not raise rates in July.
  • Help closed businesses by creating and managing a rent relief program.  This could be taken on by the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Help restaurants that are still open and locals by eliminating the food and beverage tax on “take-out” purchases for the next three months to encourage more purchases.
  • Initiate a plan to house the homeless.  See online, “U. S. Tries to House Its Homeless in a Hurry to Prevent Coronavirus Outbreaks” Wall Street Journal, April 3, 2020.

The warnings about the past ten years of irresponsible spending have come home to roost and we must face the current threat to our town boldly, transparently and meaningfully.  Heed the example set by Bret Champion, Medford School District Superintendent, who recently canceled the purchase of Cobblestone Village for a new middle school because of an expected drop in tax revenue due to Covid-19:

“As soon as this hit, and we began to see the effect it was having on the economy, it was clear this was going to have a very dramatic impact. We are a business that relies on taxes and all that goes with it, so a downturn in the economy definitely has impact on us in the long run.” 

Words of wisdom we hope to hear soon from our city leaders.

Ashland Citizens for Economic Sustainability