Issues

Ashland for Families

Attracting families to Ashland, and supporting those who choose to make Ashland home, requires affordable housing, childcare opportunities, quality schools, stable well-paid employment and a manageable cost of living.

Housing 

Housing costs and cost of living in Ashland continue to be a challenge. With a vacancy rate of approximately 1.5%, rents are at a premium, and a median home cost in excess of $400K is onerous for many. Further, consistently increasing utility rates, fees and taxes result in an increased cost of living that outpaces what is sustainable for many families and individual workers. 

Together We Can:

  • Review land use planning and look for opportunities to cost-effectively expand our housing inventories without engaging in urban sprawl.
  • Revisit and revise the Croman Mill Master Plan.
  • Leverage the review of master plans to prioritize evolving utility infrastructure requirements. 
    • As our electric contract with Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) comes up for negotiation, begin our analysis early to assess options, both with BPA and other providers. Do not wait! Early action gives Ashland the best opportunity to drive favorable terms that benefit residents.
  • Ensure a disciplined approach to infrastructure upgrades and repair to keep the cost of living manageable for Ashland residents. 

Childcare

Ashland features a quality school system with an excellent track record of success. However, limited pre-school education, toddler programs, and infant care options present an obstacle to young families. My family experienced this first hand in 2018. Schneider Children’s Center provided an excellent quality of care, and play based education, for my daughter. I learned much observing how my daughter’s teachers interacted with the children and adopted these strategies in our home. The sudden closure of Schneider Children’s Center sent families, including my own, to seek alternate early education and care opportunities. Given the limited options, some families had no alternative but to seek solutions outside of Ashland. In recent months, Covid-19 has further highlighted the integral nature of early childcare programs, and school based learning, as it pertains to supporting families and our economy. As parents have attempted to take on the role of educator, we are made aware how vital our educators and childcare professionals are to our communities, economies, but most especially our families.

Together We Can:

  • Our city government does not have a direct role, but we do have a responsibility to be a good partner to our school board and those who participate in early childcare options.
  • Encourage Growth:
    • Urge engagement of early childhood educators, and local experts, such as Kid Time Learning Loft, Family Nurturing Center, and others, to explore opportunities for similar programs and/or expansion into Ashland.
  • Expand Community Partnerships:
    • Support exploration of opportunities to integrate our city’s senior programs, and early childhood education classes, with the goal of mutually beneficial enrichment.
  • Though Covid-19 introduces uncertainty in the future of childcare offerings, it simultaneously presents an opportunity to make space for new ideas and delivery methods.

Employment

Ashland’s top employers include Southern Oregon University, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the healthcare industry, Ashland schools and the City of Ashland. By sector, approximately a quarter of our city’s employment resides in retail and hospitality with healthcare and education close behind.

Together We Can:

  • Strengthen Ashland’s shoulder season.
    • Tourism related economies are cyclical and highlight the need to strengthen our shoulder season offerings to better support our hospitality and retail businesses.
  • Recruit new employers to function in parallel with, but not dependent upon our tourism. 
    • In an increasingly technology driven environment, and with the onset of Covid-19, working remotely is increasingly more prevalent. 
    • Ashland possesses attractive assets, such as Ashland Fiber Network, and direct flights to major west coast cities that can be leveraged to attract employers.
  • Leverage the strength of our schools to attract prospective businesses.
  • Build an actionable strategy to highlight our strengths, target prospective businesses, and engage prospective businesses.

Budget Issues: Health Care

Over the last three years health care costs have increased annually by 5-6%, outpacing inflation. According to Price Waterhouse Coopers Health Research Institute the three primary drivers include:

  1. Increasing prescription drug prices,
  2. Chronic disease, and
  3. Greater utilization of mental health benefits

Looking ahead to 2021 this trend is predicted to continue:

  • COVID-19 impacts the forecast greatly as patients have deferred many elective procedures and routine care.
    • Subsequently, health care cost increase estimates are closer to 4% for 2020.
    • Unfortunately, when patients do seek the deferred care, costs could balloon by 10% above pre-Covid-19 levels, resulting in the greatest medical cost inflation since 2007.
    • These increases will be driven by a greater number of claims and high costs for acute conditions previously left untreated. 
  • Given these trends our city cannot continue in health plan structures as they are in the current biennium budget.
    • During the 2019/2021 biennium I advocated for plan structure changes.
    • I continue to support further exploring changes in plan structure in an effort to address the year over year increases that for even the largest of corporations are untenable in the long term.  
  • Contracted Health Benefits:
    • I would like to see a process that puts the health and well being of our employees up front and works to control cost by thinking outside the lines and consider the following:
      • First, preventative care and patient compliance can lower the cost of care for chronic conditions.
      • Second, the prescription drug benefit is one of the top three drivers of cost of care. Explore if we can pool employees beyond just the City of Ashland, giving us bargaining power with the pharmacy benefit managers
      • Third, in the wake of COVID-19, there has been an increase in access to telehealth services, which can prevent over-utilization of expensive care pathways for minor conditions.

I feel exploring ideas such as those listed above drives solutions that empower employees and saves money for both employer and employee through proactive care.

If our employees do not value the benefit, they will negotiate to avoid assuming the expense. Yes, the premiums need to be addressed, however when the benefit received has value, compromise can be reached.


For more information on health care considerations please read the below post and sources: https://paulamhyatt.com/2020/07/28/health-care-considerations/


Together We Can:

  • Moving forward Ashland needs to address more than just the premium.
    • Plans with higher deductibles often translate to having lower premiums. Such plans can be coupled with a health care savings (HSA) account to serve both employers and employees well.
    • Co-pay responsibility and cost share formulas should also be considered.
    • Similarly, plans that utilize a network of providers can help save employers and employees on premiums and deductible and should be seriously considered.
  • In conjunction with the plan structure the pharmacy benefit must also be addressed. A large cost driver of health care is prescription drug coverage. Possible ways to drive savings include:
    • Preferred formulary
    • Tiered formulary
    • Mail order conversion
    • Specialty medications are the greatest cost driver among prescriptions – manufacturers often offer drug rebate programs and coupon programs that should be explored.
  • Looking at data from the Kaiser Family Foundation employees in Oregon, on average, are responsible for one sixth of the health care premium or about 16%. It would be my recommendation to address our health care through multiple channels:
    • Plan design including deducible, co-pay levels, and coverage shares including out of pocket maximums.
    • Transition responsibility for premiums up to 16% of the total premium while ensuring the City of Ashland does not trigger the affordability provisions under the ACA. Because of the affordability provision, stating a specific percent reduction in city sponsored premium will require analysis to avoid incurring penalty payments under the ADA.
  • Finally, plan changes ideally would be shifted over a 2-4-year period in keeping with our biennium structure. Cost shifting to employees should be addressed in a measured way that enables the city to address the expense stresses on our budget while smoothing the impact to employees over a finite time-frame.

Budget Issues: Public Employee Retirement System (PERS)

Ashland faces funding its’ share of the PERS obligation in the amount of $10.3M for the 2019/ 2021 biennium, a $2.1M increase over the prior biennium. According to our adopted budget the total obligation makes up 23.6% of total wages paid for the current biennium. This trend will continue as we enter our next budget season in the Spring of 2021. Couple this growing obligation with reduced revenues due to Covid-19 and our council, city staff, budget officer, and the budget committee need to be ready to prioritize and make challenging choices that enable us to meet these growing cost obligations.


For history on the Public Employee Retirement System please visit: https://paulamhyatt.com/2020/07/24/what-is-pers-and-why-does-it-impact-ashlands-budget/


Progress on PERS Funding Responsibility:

  • In 2019 Senate Bill 1049 made two reductions in PERS benefits in an effort to stem escalating pension costs. These changes include:
    • Limit the ending salary on which pension benefit are calculated at $195K
    • Requiring employees making more than $30,000 to share in a small percentage of the cost for their pension benefit
    • These changes were challenge up through the Oregon Supreme Court. On August 6, 2020 the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the changes under Senate Bill 1049.
  • A final version of the actuarial findings by Milliman Inc., will be presented in October 2020
    • These findings will set public employers required pension payments beginning in July 2021
    • Ashland does not set the rate required to support the defined benefit, the State of Oregon does, however Ashland does opt to pick the employee portion.
      • Ideally, I would like to see employees contribute 6% and the city match the percent contributed up to 6% similar to traditional corporate match programs for 401K retirement vehicles.
    • Milliman Inc. anticipates the rate paid as a percentage of payroll to decline in July 2021 due to:
      • Senate Bill 1049 withstanding court challenge
      • Extending the fund deficit repayment period by 10 years.

COVID-19

Public health and safety of all residents, families and workers continues to be of the highest priority for our city. We must continue to integrate our city planning with established public health policy on the state and county level.

Ashland boasts an active citizenry exemplified by the dedicated men and women who participate in their community governance.  This civic strength stands as a foundation upon which we as a community can rally around our local businesses, support working families, and promote the unique economic strengths of our city. We are stronger together.  By leveraging the depth and breadth of our constituency we will meet the economic and social challenges of COVID-19 head on, build on our past experience, assess the present, and adapt for a prosperous future.

Paula Hyatt Ashland City Council Race

Together We Can:

  • Integrate our city planning with established public health policy on the state and county level.
  • Develop an actionable plan to address the social and economic changes required to help Ashland successfully recover from the COVID-19 environment.
  • Advocate at the State level for our businesses.
  • And of course…wash our hands regularly with soap and water, wear a mask and practice social distancing.

Racial Equity and Social Justice

I was raised in a working-class neighborhood in upstate New York, surrounded by people working hard to make their lives and the lives around them better. I watched as postal workers, fork lift operators, and teachers, like my parents, gave their all for our community. 
Despite any economic disadvantages growing up, I have benefited from unearned advantages in society – simply because I am white. Therefore,  I am committed to creating/supporting/holding space for long overdue racial equity and social justice conversations. It is my job to facilitate substantive change to allow all our residents to thrive within our community free from bias. Together, as a community, we must make transitions in hearts, minds, and systems to facilitate lasting change.

Now is the time:

  • Our city currently seeks to fill multiple roles including a city manager, a director of finance and a public works director. As our city engages in the hiring process we must ensure our recruitment and hiring practices are free from bias, and support all qualified candidates.
  • City leadership must proactively review policies and systems, across the continuum of city services, with the express goal of eliminating bias and ensuring a community where all our residents and neighbors can thrive.
  • Jackson County’s pursuit of a significantly larger jail is the wrong solution to our community’s comprehensive needs. As a society we need to shift the paradigm on how we help those navigating mental health challenges and addiction. Incarceration, tickets and fines do not facilitate a solution. I voted no on Measure 15-190 along with 70% of our county. I believe in and support efforts that help those navigating mental health challenges and/or addiction with support that constructively helps with each individuals unique needs.

Racism and social justice are rooted in our policies and the bias they inflict. Our city’s government must be responsible to all citizens and ensure policies reject bias and embrace anti-racist principles.

–Paula Hyatt

City Manager

A qualified city manager is key to improving the cohesive management of our city.  Ashland manages a large infrastructure for a city its size, and our economy depends largely on tourism. Looking forward, we cannot measure the managerial needs of this city solely based on the number of citizens. Understanding Ashland’s public works infrastructure, and economic drivers, remain essential qualifications for our next city manager. Our city faces a time of challenge and renewal. A clear focus and dedication to hiring the best candidate is essential to our success.

Ashland voted in the May 19, 2020 Primary Election to create a city manager position with 63.6% in favor of the change. I endorsed this measure publicly in our voter pamphlet and strongly believe a competitive hiring process is the necessary next step. This hiring process opens the door to review our hiring polices to ensure Ashland hiring practices are free from bias and supportive of ALL qualified candidates. Change brings opportunity and now is the time to engage the best leadership for Ashland in an open, efficient, and transparent process.

Paula Hyatt Ashland Oregon

Apply the Lens of Ashland Values:

  • Qualifications: Our ideal city manager must possess a degree in Public Management, experience with city infrastructure comparable to Ashland’s, and an excellent understanding of financial analysis, reporting, and decision making. 
  • People do not leave companies; they leave managers. As such, for the continuity and betterment of our community, we need a manager who understands the importance of teams. Specifically, our city manager must know how to build, develop and motivate teams to meet the objectives of our municipality.
  • Ashland needs a city manager vested in Ashland and committed to Ashland’s future.

Community Center, Pioneer Hall and City Hall

City Hall

Let us utilize lessons learned from COVID-19 as a launch point for positive change.

It Is Time To Explore:

  • City employee work from home programs
  • Flex Schedules such as 9/80 flex shifts
  • Cube hoteling for days with on-site needs. 
  • Such solutions alleviate the stress on physical site of Ashland City Hall and can positively contribute to a cost effective long-term strategy.

Community Center and Pioneer Hall

The use of our Community Center and Pioneer Hall, at this time of Covid-19, needs to align with public health recommendations and mandates. The public health and safety of all residents, families, and workers continues to be of the highest priority for our city.

The Ashland Community Center and Pioneer Hall are vital to the volunteer organizations and community groups that make Ashland the vibrant, socially responsible city in which we live. The Ashland Community Center provides a central site for many Ashland groups to meet, including Rotary, community programs, family celebrations and more. Likewise, Pioneer Hall hosts our local Boy Scout troop and a variety of community groups.

Now Is The Time To:

  • Make use of existing funds outlined in the 20/21 budget for use in the improvement and maintenance of these critical structures.
  • Re-prioritize capital improvement projects to support the execution of repairs necessary to reinstate the Ashland Community Center and Pioneer Hall for residents’ use.

Housing Insecurity and Homelessness

Housing insecurity exists on a continuum and success depends on addressing the visible manifestations of homelessness in parallel with less evident expressions of housing insecurity.

Many live paycheck to paycheck and may be one family emergency or illness from losing their home.  Therefore, as a community we need to solve for keeping individuals and families stably housed before the balance tips into homelessness.

  • Also at issue are, high rents, 1.5% to 2% vacancy rates, and utility fees.
    • Tenants are often responsible for paying electric and gas bills, along with rents, that together comprise better than 50% of their take home pay.
    • Clearly when the vacancy rate is low, the market forces of supply and demand support property owners charging higher rents.
    • Financial planners advise housing costs should require no more than a third of take-home income.

Here we see the intersection of housing that is in practice not affordable and thus consumes income at rates that make addressing unexpected expenses, such as those listed above, untenable and pushing housed individuals and families into homelessness.

For most residents the bulk of utilities, excluding gas, are operated by the City of Ashland. Subsequently, given the impactful nature of utility expense on stable housing, our city has a responsibility to partner with our residents who are housing insecure.

Additionally, though the city cannot take on a full ministry to help those in need of stable housing, Ashland must support and enable organizations that specialize in the suite of services helpful in assisting and empowering our housing insecure and homeless residents.

“My grandmother, Stella, taught me it costs nothing to acknowledge someone, say hello and smile. I believe in serving all our neighbors, regardless of socioeconomic status with dignity and respect.”

— Paula Hyatt

Approximately 20% of our city’s population lives in poverty according to  https://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/ashland-or-population/. As such, addressing the housing, homelessness, and food security needs of our community, both visible and invisible, is paramount to serving our residents.   

Together We Can:

  • Continue our commitment to the dedicated revenue stream supportive of our Housing Trust Fund.
    • In 2017 and 2019, I and fellow Budget Committee Members, voted to fund the Housing Trust Fund with tax revenues received from marijuana sales.
    • Affordable housing is consistently articulated as a priority to many Ashland residents and preserving this funding stream is reflective of representing the feedback of residents.
  • City block grants using funds received by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) assist in creating and maintaining affordable housings units, support services for homeless outreach, prevention and transition, support for mental health services and for those in crisis, and improvement of transportation options for those in need.
    • In a time of Covid-19, where additional programs may be forth coming, I would be committed to exploring additional funding opportunities through HUD or other federally programs.
  • Review our policies around utility shut off orders and utility assistance programs.
    • Oregon does have minimal protections to ensure services are not cut in extreme heat and cold.
      • However, it does not have to be below freezing for someone to become hypothermic.
      • Review the rules around shut off orders and determine how can we best work with those in jeopardy of utility shut offs.
    • Similarly, though our city does have assistance programs, are they effective?
      • It is imperative we conduct periodic reviews of such programs to ensure they meet the needs of those using the benefits.
  • Continue, and strengthen, partnerships that provide a suite of services enabling those on the homeless continuum a path toward work and housing stability.
  • Research and pursue impactful projects focused on affordable housing and/ or rents. Projects that considerately introduce higher density housing, with proximity to public transportation, and support individuals and working families.
  • Develop programs and cooperative agreements with existing organizations such as CSA’s, food banks and entities seeking solutions to limit food waste.

Wildfire Risk

All homes in Ashland are considered to be in a Wildfire Hazard Zone, and maintaining focus on wildfire preparedness is imperative. 2018 was a challenging summer for all residents and though our current economic and social environment is rightfully first in our thoughts, we cannot forget the importance of wildfire preparation and risk mitigation.

“Justifying preemptive investments, and the associated savings resulting from preventative stewardship, is often hard to quantify. Similarly, placing a value on what does not happen is next to impossible. We need only to view recent catastrophic events in towns similar to Ashland to understand the real and tangible results of wildfire. Such introspection highlights that proper planning and preparation is not only essential but life-saving.”

— Paula Hyatt

Ashland’s Fire Department supports excellent programs addressing wildfire preparedness including but not limited to, Ashland FireWise, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), Ready, Set, Go Evacuation Planning, Nixel alerts and more.

Together We Can:

  • Continue support of the Ashland Forest Resiliency Stewardship Project, an effective forest management partnership between City of Ashland, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, U.S. Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest and The Nature Conservancy.
  • Ensure our evacuation processes and procedures are known, and educate ourselves on our role in an evacuation.
  • Educate residents on the Ashland FireWise program and recommendations. Prepare our homes and outdoor spaces now to effectively mitigate risk.
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