debunking the myths

A proponent of Measure 15-214 recently posted a statement for supporting the measure on Next Door.  It was such a succinct presentation of all that is wrong with his position that I was compelled to respond.

I don’t know if the original poster is simply poorly informed or attempting to deceive, but almost every statement he makes is demonstrably wrong or false.

The crux of his argument (verbatim) was:

1. The Streets Division is limited to using the F&B funds for large scale projects only, but it has no unfunded major projects on the horizon, and

2. Streets has developed another line of revenue and no longer needs its portion of the F&B tax.

3. Parks and Rec’s portion is currently limited to Capital Projects leaving insufficient funds for maintenance and other ongoing needs.

Let’s examine these statements for accuracy.

1. The Streets Division is limited to using the F&B funds for large scale projects only, but it has no unfunded major projects on the horizon.

Incorrect.  Both Ashland St. and N. Mountain Avenue as well as Oak St. are major projects slated for this biennium.  They are listed in the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) for $14M. The street fund has revenue in the form of DEBT of $14.5M in the proposed budget.  At even just 3%, that debt requires $435,000 per year in INTEREST ONLY.  Don’t forget the principal, another million dollars or so for 15 years.

These projects are to be funded by debt because there are no other adequate funding sources.

The current ordinance as approved by the voters in 2016 says (C.1.):

“Any taxes collected by the City under this chapter and not used as described in subsections4. 020C. 334. 1-shall be paid into the Street Fund and used for street maintenance and reconstruction.”

Some confusion is caused by the following clause (C.5.):

“Beginning in fiscal year 2023,the council may,through the statutory budget process,appropriate taxes under this chapter as follows:

a. Not less than twenty-five percent (25%) for the acquisition,planning, development,repair and rehabilitation of City parks.

b. Not less than an amount necessary to pay for debt service on any borrowing for street repair and rehabilitation per the City of Ashland Pavement Management Program.”

The operative word there is “may”.  In other words, council MAY choose to do that, but otherwise they MAY choose to follow the preceding instructions.

It’s too bad the ordinance itself is ambiguous, but it’s unconscionable that people who should know better try to misrepresent what it says.

2. Streets has developed another line of revenue and no longer needs its portion of the F&B tax.

He may be referring to franchise fees.  But they don’t come close to paying for even the debt service, no less all of the other requirements of the street dept even after all of their other income sources.

Look at the condition of our streets.  They require constant maintenance.  There will never be enough money available to deal with them properly.

And of course, he doesn’t realize that those franchise fees previously flowed into the general fund.  Now they will be unavailable in the general fund for other essential uses, because they will be going to streets.

There is no free lunch.  This is just moving money around.  It’s the old shell game.

When the street fund becomes underfunded, the street user fee will be raised as surely as night follows day.  That will be just one of the tax increases that flow from this measure.

In addition, this presents a false choice. There is no reason that either the franchise fees or the 73% of FBT needs to go to APR for any purpose. This is just another fiction that has been imagined by the proponents of the measure.

3. Parks and Rec’s portion is currently limited to Capital Projects leaving insufficient funds for maintenance and other ongoing needs.

This is the spin that’s been offered to the voters by the proponents, but it is totally untrue. It is based upon the interpretation of the city manager, which is his opinion only. It is not supported by the wording of the current ordinance.

Read the ordinance, and decide for yourself. 

The current ordinance states “Twenty-five percent (25%) shall be paid into a parks account for purposes of acquisition,planning,development,repair and rehabilitation of City parks per adopted plans of the Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission.”

Here’s the thing: “repair and rehabilitation” of property and facilities is functionally equivalent to “maintenance”.

But here’s an even bigger thing: the APR approved operating budget for FY21-23 was $14M.  That is exclusive of any FBT revenue.   Why is APR unable to perform its core function—maintaining the parks– with that kind of money?  Where is that money going?  Is it being spent efficiently?  Effectively? 

A basic rule of any enterprise, whether private or public is that you do NOT reward poor performance with increased funding.  NEVER.

When proponents claim that this is not increasing APR funding, they are neglecting the simple fact that this measure is DEDICATING 98% of the FBT for an ADDITIONAL TEN YEARS.  It is taking that funding source away from the council’s discretion for SEVENTEEN YEARS.

Many individuals have been spreading this misinformation.  Most voters don’t have the resources to know that it is incorrect in every respect.  Facts matter.  The truth matters.

The proponents present this measure as a simple, minor, short term change in allocation, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  This reallocation will have profound effects on not only APR, not only streets, but the financial health of the city for years to come.

And most importantly this will add to your fees (taxes), which are poised to increase exponentially in the next decade to pay for the $178M approved in the five year CIP.  $133M is slated to be funded by rates and fees alone.

The long term effects of 15-214 are not as simple as some would have you believe.

And ask yourself this: if it’s really no big deal, then why are they fighting so hard to achieve it?

The only way for APR to get back on track, and stop chasing expensive new, pet projects, is to concentrate on SAVING OUR PARKS. The best way to do that is to replace the current incompetent management, and insist that APR concentrate on its core functions, and learn to live with the practical constraints of the city’s finances.

Support “needs”, not “wants” that the city cannot afford.

And please vote NO on 5-214.