Ashland Parks and Recreation Department funding is back in the news, and the usual suspects have lined up on opposite pages of the Parks Commission’s recent attempt to revert to the autonomy the independently elected body once enjoyed. Ultimately, Ashland voters will decide the future of the city’s parking system, which is the appropriate resolution to the current debate.
A little history first: In 1908, the City Charter established an elected body to develop and manage parks and set a park land tax of up to $ 2.09 per $ 1,000 of estimated value for funding.
In the 1990s, voters approved two ballots nationwide to cap property tax. In the small print of the initiatives, there was a language that ended all tax collection for city and district companies and brought them to the general fund. At the county level, this involved the Jackson County Historical Society and the library system. In Ashland it was the Parks Commission.
This created tension between the city council and the elected parking commission over how much money should be allocated to parks. The historic rate of $ 2.09 was lowered to $ 1.89, and the Department of Parks had to compete with all other city departments for its share of the funds allocated by the city’s budget committee.
The Parks Commission voted to run a local tax collection that would restore the $ 2.09 rate. Ultimately, the Commission wants to create a tax district separate from the city’s general fund. Both require the approval of the voters.
The commission has asked the city council to put the tax request on the May vote when it meets next week. If the Council refuses, the Commission could proceed to collect enough signatures to put the measure itself on the ballot.
As expected, the self-proclaimed budget experts who keep an eye on the city’s spending have accused the park inspectors of bringing the budget process to an end. âWho do they think they are?â Say the critics. “Don’t they understand that budgets have to be cut when resources are insufficient to meet demand?”
Of course they do. The Commission has cut its budget, including downsizing.
In reality, the Park Commission is calling for a return to the 1997 state of affairs. Commissioners bet that the parks and other leisure activities in the city are so important to voters that they want to support them directly with their taxpayers’ money.
The city council has signaled that it is unwilling to grant the commission’s request before finalizing a discussion with the municipality about all the city services that depend on the general fund. Until that happens, Councilor Tonya Graham said in a letter the city did not have enough information to put a vote on the ballot.
What is really happening here is a power struggle between two elected bodies with shared authority over a city department. If the city council wants to control the wallets for parks, it should ask the voters to change the city law and dissolve the elected parking commission. There is little point in choosing people to manage the parking system, but in limiting their authority.
It makes more sense to ask voters to create a separate tax district for parks and remove its budget from the general fund. If voters are not ready to do so, they should be asked whether they still want to elect the parking inspectors or appoint the offices.
You can find a different perspective on this subject in the guest opinion on this page.