The Budget in Ashland
Updated: Oct 10, 2022
Hi Ashlanders, the election is in full swing now. It's great to see the signs out, and read candidate articles. I’d like to take the time now to deeper address some issues in blog posts. This post addresses the City Budget.
There’s lots of talk about the City’s budget — past, present, and future. The budget process is just starting to begin for the next biennium, and I look forward to being a part of that process. As you might know or guess, City government doesn’t budget the same way you do in your home or in your business. Budgeting a government is as much science as it is an art. Those who work on the budget look far into the future and there are so many unknowns that require adjustments throughout the biennium.
You might read or hear we have a huge “structural deficit”. That term doesn't even seem to apply here… The budget is currently balanced, as is required by Oregon State Law. Our budget always has to be balanced. There was an “actuals” shortfall due to a decrease in revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, when all of our local businesses needed to shut down and we didn’t have the normal revenue, that created the shortfall. To deal with this situation the City and cities around the country received funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. Though this was a one time allocation, it brought us right back to where we needed to be. Again, the shortfall was not an issue with the budget structurally, but force majeure that required federal assistance. The funds were used exactly how they were intended.
Moving into the present City Manager requested that all departments present what a 5% and 10% cut to each department budget would look like. During that process a department head highlighted that savings could be made up through unfilled positions and cuts to non essential travel. That covered any hole that was in the budget. We are at $1.7 million in reserves and some of the contigency was used to purchase a new fire engine that was not anticipated (again, why we have a contingency).
It sounds like the City will have an ending fund balance and moving into the new biennium departments will be asked to present a tightened budget for their respective departments. This will allow us to grow our contingency and make strategic allocations where needed.
Looking towards the future, we are going to have to make important decisions about service levels and prioritizing. It is my belief that we move forward with a budget that covers our essential city services, accounts for Cost of Living increases for City Staff, and create backup plans with strategic cuts in the event of another situation necessitating such action. I firmly believe that we have all the tools necessary to meet any fiscal challenge thrown at us. I also believe that with strong leadership to encourage even more economic development, that we can maintain what makes this community so special and even build onto the work that previous generations have done.