GRANOLAPARK: Hike, anyone?

The Takoma Park Community Center, September, 2016. Photo by Jay Keller.

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

Loathsome dark days lie ahead.

Yes, it’s Takoma Park’s budget season. Cry woe, woe, woe! Pour a drink and hide under the futon.

As usual, taxes are going up – if the proposed budget passes. Proposed budgets never pass without changes, and the tax rate is usually changed. But, it never changes a lot, and almost never goes down so much that citizens pay less than in the previous year.

Note that the RATE goes down, but the TAXES go up. That’s because the tax is based on property values, which go up. So even if the rate stays the same or go down a bit, the homeowner will pay more money.

There is a percentage point at which the homeowner will pay the same amount or less. That’s called the “constant yield tax rate.” You will see it mentioned in the following key quote from city manager Suzanne Ludlow’s proposed budget, presented at the April 5 city council meeting.

She says, “In this budget, I propose to lower the real property tax rate from $0.5675 to $0.56 per $100 net assessed valuation. Although this rate is above the $0.5358 constant yield tax rate, the additional funds are needed to address exciting and challenging council priorities and also protect against possible future declines in revenue that may be an outcome of the federal budget process now underway.”

Which raises the question, why is the council starting up costly new programs at a time the city is facing possible future revenue declines? Part of the answer is that the projects have been in the works for months or years – long before the Trump administration threat to withdraw federal funds from sanctuary cities.

“I Implore you not to raise property taxes,”resident Paul Huebner said to the council. He described the city as “hollowed out,” leaving only the rich and poor. Decades ago, he said, the city was one third working class, one third minority and one third professional. Now, he said, the working class is gone.

Huebner said his statement was just the beginning of his efforts to keep taxes at or below the constant tax rate. He warned the council that if it failed to do so, “they cleaned house in DC, it may be time to do it in Takoma Park.”

Councilmember Fred Schultz said that people who grouse about the budget should attend the budget open house the next evening and make positive suggestions.

The budget open house was the first-ever of its kind in the city. When the mayor announced it there was a loud cheer. It came from the city manager. The audience quickly checked their calendars to make sure they had a conflict that Thursday night.

A more reliable source

Your Gilbert missed the April 5 budget presentation, we were on the three-hour elevator ride to the depths of our budget-proof bunker.

But, we were able to follow it via Arthur David Olsen’s reliable tweets at #takomapark.

He likes to get more explicit with numbers than we do, “with property tax rate cut of 1.3% but boost in assessed value of 6%, total of property tax bills will go up.”

But even though he focuses on numbers, he still catches the good quotes, “City manager’s understatement of the night: ‘Special Projects can vary in cost a great deal.’”

Some important stats: “City manager notes 2.3% increase in operating costs–a fairly low number, though still above inflation.”

He noted that the proposed budget includes a 67 percent increase in stormwater management fees. Granolapark reported on this March 29.

Arthur also noted that the budget includes $75,000 for a junction traffic study and an extra $100,000 for the under-funded police pension fund. Arthur commented that “With a $10 million hole, I’d like to see more” placed in the fund.

The budget season wraps up May 17.

Election change hearing changes

There was supposed to be a public hearing on changing the city election day and year to coincide with the general election. But since the required-by-law public notice stated the wrong date for the meeting, they rescheduled it for April 27.

Jeffrey Noel-Nosbaum went ahead with his public comment. He was against the change, but, he said, as he has already explained why in writing and at other occasions, he chose to speak against the plan to have a one-year term in between the old and new systems. A one year term was not worth it, he said. Make it a three year term and save money on the next election, he urged.

– Gilbert

 

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About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.