Vote “No” on Measure 15-214

Ashland Parks and Recreation (“APRC”) currently seeks to amend the Ashland Municipal Code (“Code”), Section 4.34.020(C), to obtain 100% of the Food and Beverage Tax (“F&B Tax”), less 2% to the City of Ashland (“City”) for administrative costs.  Under the amendment, 25% could be available for parks’ capital improvement costs and 73% could be available for not only capital improvement costs, but also maintenance and operation costs, as well.     

Under existing law, Section 4.34.020(C), APRC is entitled to receive “no less than 25%” of the F&B Tax for parks’ capital improvement expenses, plus the remaining 73% could also be used for park capital improvement expenses and/or the city’s street repair debt.  (Again, 2% goes to the City for administrative costs.)  Therefore, if the money is not needed for street repair debt, APRC could receive 73% of the F&B money for capital improvement expenses, the same as under the proposed amendment, but the money could not be used for operations and maintenance expenses.

Voting “No” is much more advantageous to the City and Ashland citizens. It would allow the City to have the option to use 73% of the F&B Tax money for streets or give it to APRC for capital improvement costs.  By contrast, if the amendment is approved, street repairs would have to be paid with increased franchise fees charged to utility companies, as was done in the FY2021/2023 City budget to temporarily give APRC 98% of the F&B Tax.  Of course, the increased franchise fees will be passed onto Ashland citizens in the form of increased utility bills. By voting “No,” the F&B Tax would continue to be the dedicated source for the Street Fund with no new fee burdens on the citizens and APRC could still receive 98% of the F&B Tax for capital improvement costs if money was not needed for streets. 

The City indicated in the FY2021/2023 budget report that there would be a corresponding decrease in property tax money for the additional 73% F&B Tax money APRC would temporarily receive in the last budget.  However, there is nothing in the proposed amendment to Section 4.34.020(C) that says there would be corresponding decrease in property tax money for the additional 73% in F&B Tax money APRC would receive.  Moreover, as long as the City Charter, which gives APRC the right to a percentage of the property tax, is not amended, it is the law.  Even the recent City Budget report stated that it would need to “Adopt an ordinance directing the specific allocation of property tax millage to be transferred to the Ashland Parks & Recreation Commission on a stepwise decreasing schedule.”  (See p. 25 of the budget report)  This ordinance has not been passed.  Therefore, it is possible for APRC to double dip into the property tax money and get the full F&B Tax if the amendment is approved.

Through approval of Measure 15-214, APRC is also seeking to extend collection of this tax to 2040.  The current tax is effective until 2030.  This double-dipping taxation should not be allowed to be extended.  Vote “No” on Measure 15-214.

Finally, it is self-serving for APRC to seek the lion’s share of the F&B Tax through this amendment before the citizens of Ashland have had an opportunity to see the proposed budget and where the shortfalls lie.  This Special Ballot Measure is set for vote in May and the City’s budget and shortfalls will not be revealed until June. 

As stated in the approved City’s budget for FY2021/2023, the City has a structural imbalance of $2,000,000.  This imbalance or gap grows to over $3.5 million by the end of that biennium and triggers a deficit position by FY2024-2025 if the inherent disconnect between revenues and expenditures is not fixed. The budget report states, “Simply put, the City of Ashland cannot afford the high level of services it has historically enjoyed under the existing funding structure.”  

The City did not even have enough funds last year to purchase another desperately needed fire truck for $700,000 without dipping into the City’s emergency (contingency) funds. 

Yet, by asking for all of the F&B Tax, APRC is saying, forget the City’s budget crisis or citizens’ ability to pay more fees for good streets; give us more money. APRC wanted $14 million in the previous approved budget.  Now they want $16 million, a staggering $2 million more for the biennium, even given the City’s deficit.

APRC is grabbing tax dollars with both fists.  With one fist, APRC is currently grabbing $5,552,939 in FY23 from our property taxes. This amounted to approximately 44 per cent of the total property tax rate.  As stated, these taxes are allowed under the City of Ashland’s Charter.  An ordinance reducing property taxes in proportion to the increase of F&B tax dollars if the amendment is approved has NOT been approved by City Council.

With the other fist, APRC is now seeking approval of Measure 15-214 to grab 100% of the F&B Tax money (less 2% in administrative fees collected by the City) by amending Section 4.34.020(C) of the F&B Tax in the Code. In APRC’s February 21, 2023 meeting, Director Black revealed that the anticipated F&B Tax resources available for FY2023/2025 would be $6,219,824.  He said, this figure, $6,219,824, is based on $2,240,000 currently sitting in their F&B piggy bank; $2,390,000 to be received from the City as a result of their budget change, and $750,000/$800,000 coming in during FY2023/2025.  In short, in addition to the $5,552,939 from property taxes, APRC will have $6,219,824 from F&B Taxes for FY2023/2025. 

In addition to the property tax and the F&B Tax, APRC also has other sources of funding for FY2023/2025.  These include:  $8,000,000 from Bonds, $384,878 from System Developmentt Charges (SDC), $691,100 from Land Sales, and $1,700,000 from Grants. When is it enough?

In closing, I recommend a “No” Vote on Measure 15-214 for all of the reasons discussed above.

Loretta Barlow