Let Them Eat Signage

Dear Readers,

When you lose your job and can’t buy food for your children or pay your rent, what is it you need most?

Why, you need to feel GOOD about yourself and your community identity, that’s what! So, that’s why the council majority voted April 6 to proceed with plans to spend $67,000 erecting genteel “gateway” signage.

Councilmember Terry Seamens, the lone “nay” vote, thought the city should hold off on such frivolous expenditures during hard times. Seamens said he was struck by the incongruity when he spotted two new “gateway” signs, price tag of $1000 each, doing nothing but labeling Sligo Creek, around the same time he delivered food relief to an impoverished constituent.


Mayor Bruce Williams, popping Seamen’s moral-outrage balloon, pointed out that the bill before them did not actually authorize spending $67,000, it only authorized taking bids for the job. It did not obligate the city to spend that amount. The council, he implied, could take up the matter of how much, if any, to spend later. The only spending obliged for “gateway” signage was $20,000, and that has already been budgeted. Whether the bill before them passed or not would not affect that, he said.

“Sensitive” as she said she was to Seamen’s constituents and to frivolous city spending, Councilmember Colleen Clay said her constituents in more affluent Ward 2 were clamoring for the signs. Signage and landscaping, she said, proclaimed a sense of community and contributed to crime prevention and traffic calming. So saying, she moved the ordinance.

Seconding the motion, Councilmember Doug Barry said his constituents were also asking for signs, especially those in the part of Ward 6 separated from the rest of the city by New Hampshire Avenue. The signage cost, he said was “money well spent.”

Councilmember Josh Wright, whose Ward 1 has already had “gateway” signs installed, declared his sensitivity to the issue as well, but said he would defer to councilmembers whose wards did not have signage yet. He voted for the measure, which passed, 6 – 1.

No Free Ride, No Free Swim

Another shellshocked visitor from the county council dropped in last Monday. County councilmember George Leventhal had much the same things to say as the last visitor county councilmember Marc Elrich.

To sum it up: gloom and doom.

Here are the details, Dear Readers, if you can stand it. Get out your hankies! The county budget will have the smallest increase in decades this year, which doesn’t even keep up with the cost of utilities. The county is looking at the elimination of 400 jobs, and a possible cut in the school budget. Leventhal predicted “significant furloughs.” Your Gilbert thinks he has no hope for his application to the county as official blogger. Perhaps we shouldn’t have proposed a $500,000 yearly salary. Mr. Leggett, we will accept $225,000!

The county council is counting on (“praying for” is a better description) revenues from a proposed Emergency Medical Services Transport fee, or as it is better known, the “ambulance fee”. This, Leventhal admits, is an “unfortunately named bill” (and that is an understatement).

Public opinion against the bill is high, though Leventhal, like Elrich before him, said that only insurance companies would be paying all the fees. There would not even be any co-payments. Uninsured people, as long as they are county residents, would pay no fee. Surrounding jurisdictions have the same fee system and t hey report no reduction in the number of ambulance calls. The fear among opponents is that people will hesitate to call an ambulance if they think they might have to pay a fee.

Whether the bill will pass is not known, but Leventhal says he will vote for it.

Although he was cheered by the city council for helping get Piney Branch pool reopened, Leventhal warned that, given the county’s tight budget, it will have to become self-sufficient if it wants to stay open. The county will likely not fund continuing operation costs. The county’s aquatic centers are similarly self-supporting, Leventhal said. The Piney Branch’s preliminary figures indicate that self-sufficiency is possible, he noted.

Fast Money
Do we detect a touch of defensiveness on the subject of speed cameras? Every remark from the council or staff includes a pointed mention that the GOAL of the speed cameras is SLOWING TRAFFIC, (not revenue enhancement, no, no, not that! It never crossed our minds!).

Councilmember Barry said as much during council comments, noting that indeed traffic on New Hampshire Avenue has slowed down. This, he predicted, would reduce accidents and fatalities.
City Manager Barbara Matthews also stressed that the goal of the speed cameras is to slow traffic. However, she said this in the midst of her 2010 budget presentation, in which “Speed Cameras” appeared in her list of revenue producers. Also, it was one of the factors she hoped would offset the budget’s 1.35 million dollar shortfall.

The cameras have only been working for two weeks, but the city projects 7500 citations will be issued monthly. Speed camera revenues, the city manager reminded everyone, can only be spent on public safety.

But Nobody Pinched Her
One reason for the shortfall is a projected $760,000 cost to build a new public works facility. “Pinch me!” said Darly Braithewaite, Public Works Dept. Director. The current facility is long overdue to be replaced. It costs the city increasingly large amounts for utilities, and is embarrassingly unfriendly to the environment, given the city’s commitment to environmental and energy sustainability.

In fact, even in the face of a budget overrun, councilmember Reuben Snipper proposed an amendment that the new facility be LEED certified (certified to be environmentally friendly), which is costly. The amendment was not added, but only because the city manager assured Snipper that she had the discretion to add that cost in if the council later agreed to require LEED certification.

She added that she has informally talked to a design firm that wants a LEED project to gain experience, and they might waive the additional fees to the city to get that experience.

As painful as additional cost might be, councilmember Wright reminded his colleagues, the council’s own strategic plan commits them to sustainability. The rest of the council seemed to be in agreement, saying a green building would not only save the city money over time, but would serve as an educational tool. The Public Works director Braithewaite suggested that some costs could be postponed, for example the facility could be constructed so that geothermal heating and cooling might be added later.

– 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.

2 Comments on "Let Them Eat Signage"

  1. If the cameras are to deter speed(rather than to generate revenue) shouldn’t they be highly visible, shouldn’t there be warning signs? You know, so people will, well, slow down.

  2. Amazing how:
    1/ when our Council Members like something (paid out of the City Budget, of course), it is always something that their constituents (that those who voted for them out of the very small minority of registered voters who bothered to vote) are supposedly clamoring about; we have heard much about these so-called popular supports that in the end seemed to be largely existing only in the minds of these Council Members;
    2/ The speed cameras are supposedly for safety but there are no signs to inform you to slow down: Keep those dollars coming as it is always so much less that we would have to allocate to safety from the standard sources of revenues (I do not believe that the $ generated by the speed cameras come on top of standard allocated revenues for safety but in replacement)

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