Strategic Sausage

Dear Readers,

The highlight of Monday’s meeting was a councilmember falling out of his chair. It happened with a “Thump!” only a few minutes into the discussion of the Strategic Plan and Council Priorities. This is the document the council has been writing for the last several months, a process the mayor likened to the “making of vegetarian sausage.”

Apparently Councilmember Doug Barry is such a rapt fan of sausage-making that it had him on the edge of his seat at the Feb. 9th city council meeting. Or perhaps it had put him to sleep. Either way, he said he was unhurt.

The Strategic Plan is “designed to set the direction and vision for the City of Takoma Park and its government for the next five years,” as the current draft says. It also is meant to be the “driving force” behind the annual budget. In addition it sets forth the “vision and set of values” to guide the council and staff in future decision making.

Your Gilbert has been scornful of this project, as loyal readers will know, but Councilmember Reuben Snipper defended the Strategic Plan on this very blog, saying “when done it will guide the Council’s actions much more than the previous list of priorities ever did. Many cities have them and find they make long range planning much better.”

Hmm. Well, let’s see how it works in the long run, then. Much depends on whether it is used and kept updated. The document instructs the council and staff to review it yearly, and the Mayor said that that it was not a “tablet” set in stone, but had to be revised.

We hope so. We noted that the plan as now written does not mention one important city issue, the soon-to-be-abandoned Washington Adventist Hospital site, or the ambitious healthcare facility proposed for the city last week by the Health Services Impact Committee.

Springs to Park

Councilmember Colleen Clay mentioned that the model for the Strategic Plan was a similar document for the city of Colorado Springs, Co. (pop 366,000, city staff of 2500).

We took a look at Colorado Spring’s 2005 strategic plan and found that it was shorter by half than Takoma Park’s current draft plan (under agenda for Feb. 9, item #3). It is also better organized and clearer.

For example, Colorado Spring’s plan opens with a “Vision Statement” identifying their “focus areas” as:

1. Transportation
2. Public Safety
3. Infrastructure
4. Citizen Services and City Workforce
5. Economic Development
6. Community Development and Growth

Takoma Park’s opens with an “Executive Summary” that identifies “three high level prioritized goals:

Livable Community
Engaged, Responsive, and Service Oriented Government

These, especially the first two, are a lot more abstract than Colorado Spring’s focus areas such as the straightforward “Transportation.” Takoma Park’s lists of goals and projects under each heading are a hodgepodge of things involving several different departments and other entities (council, citizen committees).

Goals and projects on Colorado Spring’s Transportation plan read like a checklist for the public works department. Similarly, the goals under Public Safety are a checklist for the fire and police departments.

As our city’s plan is organized now, a Takoma Park staff person would have to hunt and peck to find all the items that pertain to his or her department.

In the city’s draft plan under “Sustainability” the projects include: encouraging and guiding development projects, affordable housing, working with business and volunteer organizations, storm water management, environmental protection of development sites, encouraging mass transit, developing an environmental policy, resolving tax duplication payments with the county, developing longer term budget planning, and reevaluating the city’s services.

This involves several different departments and at least two citizen committees. If this is a vegetarian sausage, as Mayor Williams described it, the links are all different shapes, some are not formed at all, some of it is still raw, and the sausage chain is tied up in several knots.

Rant Control

Though most of the discussion about the Strategic Plan concerned editing and small corrections, verbal blows were exchanged – politely – about rent control. The difference of opinion shows up in the draft, in one place it says ” We will continue to have rent stabilization in the city.” In another place it calls for an assessment of the “true total cost of rent stabilization and true total subsidy provided.”

Councilmember Reuben Snipper politely pushed for a similar assessment of ALL city programs and departments, not just rent control. and he objected, politely, to what seemed to him to be purely a “cash-value” approach to determining the worth of a program.

Councilmember Josh Wright politely agreed to an “across the board” assessment of all departments and stressed that he supports rent control, but said it should be the first program to be assessed, not only to determine the true cost, but to also determine the true benefit.

Councilmember Clay politely said it was baffling to her that the city would not want to know what a program costs. If “someday,” she said, they find it costs the city something like $20,000 per tenant per year, they may want to ditch the program.

Councilmember Dan Robinson politely questioned the assumption expressed in the document that the city would “continue to have rent stabilization.”

Mayor Bruce Williams politely offered a more benign reason for assessing the cost of rent control, saying that the figure might be used in getting affordable housing credit from the county.

No Rant Control

Your Gilbert will not be so polite. We will be be downright snarky, but ever so correct!

Dear Readers, what they mean by “true total cost” is the amount of income loss to landlords, the real-estate value loss on the property, and the amount of tax loss on that missing income and property value, AND the additional amount taxpayers must fork over to make up what the landlords would be paying in taxes. In other words, how much is this bleeding-heart socialist-style rent control picking from landlord’s and taxpayer’s pockets?

Your Gilbert is glad that the council will take an even handed look at ALL the city departments and programs to see what their true total cost is. But, he disagrees with Councilmember Wright that rent control should be looked at first.

How about the library? Let’s apply the same logic here that landlords and their sympathizers apply to rent control. The library lends out 90,000 books a year. That’s 90,000 books that were not purchased at a book store. At the average price of $20 a book, that represents $1,800,000 this socialistic library system is taking out of the economy. That’s enough to support at least 1 local bookstore.

That doesn’t include the cost of 150 periodicals the library provides free of charge to those welfare kings and queens known as “library patrons.” So, the true total cost is not just the city’s library budget, in addition we must add in the almost 2 million dollars lost income to local businesses, the lost rental income they would have paid to landlords, as well as the lost tax revenue on book sales and lost real estate taxes. Tsk, tsk, what a burden this library has placed on us taxpaying residents! Talk about pickpockets!

That’s nothing! How about the police department? Apply the same logic. If every one of Takoma Park’s 17,229 citizens hired a personal 24 hour armed guard (at $85 an hour, the rate charged by one local security firm) the annual cost per person would be $744,600. That adds up to $12,828,713,400 to protect the entire population! The 6% Maryland sales tax alone would net $769,722,804.

The city will also have to take into account the missed income and taxes all the security firms they have prevented from existing would have produced. Then too, factor in the same from peripheral businesses that would have made and supplied security equipment, uniforms, and so forth.

We are DESTROYING free enterprise, here! What IS this, Soviet Russia?

That’s how much money having publicly funded police takes out of the economy, Dear Readers. THOUSANDS AND HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!! That’s a LITTLE BIT more than the amount taken out by rent control, we think.

We look forward to seeing these and similar comparisons for all the other departments. How much does a personal trash-truck cost, by the way?

Rabid Marxists will say that, actually, those figures represent how much these departments save and benefit residents. Well, Dear Readers, if you want to look at it that way, then we’d have to apply that outlook “across the board” – and say that rent control saves and benefits residents.

And we believe renters are residents, are they not?

– Gilbert.

About the Author

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.

4 Comments on "Strategic Sausage"

  1. Keith Berner | February 13, 2009 at 1:10 pm |

    If only Takoma Park could nationalize the banks, fire the CEOs, and cap the salaries of all the fat cats, oh what a wonderful world it would be!

  2. No person’s life, liberty, or property is safe when the Takoma Park City Council is in session

  3. If I am not mistaken, the review of departments and “programs” was a key element of the electoral campaign of now-Mayor Williams. Since his assumption of the position, even though, the Mayor controls the agenda we have seen very little of that despite budgets having been passed. Given your assessment, Gilbert, of the specificity of measures included in the new “strategic plan”, it is likely that the value of this strategic plan in the alleged review of department and “programs” will be close to nil. However, we can expect that the adoption of this strategic plan will be presented during the next campaign as a pivotal point in the management of this city and we will have to wait until the end of the next mayoral term to see again any lip service paid to the so-called review of departments and “programs”.
    PS: Great comparison of of our plan with that of Colorado Springs!

  4. Alain,
    The Takoma Park strategic plan does get into some specifics. Our criticism is that compared with the Colorado Springs plan the Takoma Park plan’s specifics (and non-specifics) could be better organized.
    BUT, you may be interested to know that one of the specifics mentioned last Monday was the council review of departments and programs. That’s part of the plan.
    – Gilbert

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