Jul. 6—Two proposed ballot measures aimed at altering parks funding dominated a tense Ashland City Council meeting Tuesday.
City Manager Joe Lessard has proposed a ballot measure that would require using at least 25% of the roughly $3 million revenue generated by the food and beverage tax for parks. Up to 75% could be spent on public safety, emergencies such as wildfires or other large unforeseen expenses.
Lessard has argued the food and beverage tax was voted in with an end date, making it temporary money that shouldn't be relied on for day-to-day expenses.
Lessard has argued during previous council meetings that food and beverage taxes answer to ballot language, which says it can be spent only on parks and recreation capital improvement projects.
A group calling itself Ashland Friends of Parks and Open Spaces, composed of parks commissioners past and present and some concerned citizens, has drafted a citizens initiative which says 98% of the food and beverage tax should go to parks. The initiative needs 3,000 signatures by Aug. 10 to qualify for the ballot.
Councilors and Mayor Julie Akins engaged in a heated debate over the ballot measures.
Councilor Stephen Jensen argued that two measures appearing on the same ballot would cause confusion among voters and project an image of disunity. Confused voters, he argued, will vote no on both.
Councilor Stefani Seffinger suggested directing city staff to draft a ballot measure in an "either/or" format: Should the tax monies be used as Lessard has suggested, or only for parks funding?
Councilors Tonya Graham and Paula Hyatt stated that citizens need to be heard, but the ballot needs to have clarity, and directing staff to draft an either/or measure occupies a tidy middle ground.
Akins, Councilor Shaun Moran and Councilor Gina DuQuenne argued that citizens can make their voices heard by gathering signatures to gain a place on the ballot. Moran referred to it as "doing the hard work," and Akins said it doesn't make sense for city staff to write a new ballot measure replacing one already on its way.
A motion to draft the either/or ballot measure and bring it back for the council's consideration passed, with DuQuenne and Moran voting against.
Due to technical difficulties, Tuesday's City Council meeting was not streamed live on RVTV. Joe Brett, operations manager for the Digital Media Center of Southern Oregon University, said the cause could have been the recent thunderstorm.
A recording of the meeting can be seen at https://bit.ly/3bXUPiV
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Morgan Rothborne at email@example.com or 541-776-4487. Follow her on Twitter @MRothborne.