Ashland Budget Committee says no to parks department financial requests

The Ashland Citizens' Budget Committee voted against a proposal on Wednesday night to continue giving the Ashland Parks and Recreation Department half of city property tax revenues and to let the department keep its ending fund balance money.

Elected parks commissioners came to the budget meeting on Wednesday night to plead their case to keep receiving the tax revenues and to hold onto ending fund balance money.

However, a proposed citywide budget calls for an end to the practice of giving half of property taxes to the parks system, and also included cutting the ending fund balance and transferring money to city coffers.

A majority of budget committee members were unwilling to upend the city's budget so late in the budgeting process.

"We just can't do it tonight," said Ashland City Councilor Greg Lemhouse, a member of the budget committee, which is made up of councilors, the mayor and seven appointed residents.

Although parks commissioners were disappointed by the decision, Stefani Seffinger, chairwoman of the commission, said they want to continue working on the issue of finding stable funding for the parks system.

"We're committed to continuing to work with the council and the ad hoc committee," Seffinger said, referring to a temporary committee set up to look at parks system funding.

Almost two dozen residents braved the rain before the meeting to hold signs and offer a show of support for the parks system.

"I feel it's very important that we support our parks in Ashland," said resident Darryl Mallory, who was accompanied by his wife. "It's one of the things people come to Ashland to see. It's one reason we retired here."

Parks officials have acknowledged that the overall city budget planned for the next two years does meet parks needs, but they are concerned about a loss of control over funding.

For almost a century, the parks system had its own taxing authority, but that was erased by property tax reform measures approved by Oregon voters in the 1990s.

The city government continued to share half of property tax revenues with the parks department, but that agreement has come under increasing criticism in recent years, with some arguing that the semi-independent parks department should be treated like other city departments.

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