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Wed November 20, 2013
Ashland facing budget cuts in anticipation of increasing legal fees
The city of Ashland is cutting its spending because of a legal battle with Alderman Jeff Anderson that is quickly becoming very expensive.
Mayor Gene Rhorer estimates that the impeachment of Anderson and probable appeals could cost the city half a million dollars. That’s half of its annual budget.
Even a best-case timeline will far exceed the six thousand dollar general fund being used to pay for the case. “So if this continues and we continue down this path, you’re likely looking at $100,000 if it goes easy,” he says. “You’re likely looking at a half a million if we get into the thick of it.”
The legal battle began in September when the Board of Aldermen suspended Anderson for improper conduct, including use of city funds without approval.
In October Anderson sued the city and was reinstated.
The board then voted to impeach Anderson and so far that process has cost the city 25 thousand dollars in attorney fees.
Rhorer says that the impeachment case is a waste of time and money.
He says he has spoken to each alderman individually and asked them to settle their differences outside the board: “I’m sorry. Very simple. Open mindedness, compromise and a willingness to work with one another. Those three things are free. Tax dollars are not.”
They’re trying to brace for financial trouble, but the impact the legal battle will have on the citizens of Ashland is harder to prepare for.
The city is reducing its spending to cope with the expensive process including foregoing the purchase of a new 28 thousand dollar police vehicle.
Anderson says he wants to work with the board to end the legal proceedings and, quote, “get back to the city’s business.”
“I’m back at the table and I’m here to work,” he says. “I’m not here to spend taxpayers’ money on this stuff, the decision was made by the board, not by me to spend more money on the taxpayer’s dime.”
Ashland special attorney David Bandre says the easiest solution would be if Anderson resigned.
“Well the best case scenario would be if Mr. Anderson chose to resign, because that would resolve the issue and would cut out any future attorney fees,” he says.
All city departments are trimming back to meet predicted costs and all non-essential expenses are being abandoned.
Rhorer says these cuts will help pay for the legal bill, but Ashland will have to dig deeper to find money for future expenses.
“The long term effect will set this city back, I feel like probably years at the very least: years in growth, years in economic development, years in partnerships, years in participation, folks wanting to move to this community,” he says.
The hearing for the impeachment will be set in December. In the meantime, legal fees continue to pile up, at the rate of $200 per hour.
This story originally aired as part of Business Beat, a weekly program about business and economics in mid-Missouri.