Budge It

Dear Readers,

The city budget is driving us to drink. And, since Happy Hour starts in a few minutes, this posting will be brief.

The next time the city manager describes how the budget shortfall, flat income tax revenue, simultaneously rising and falling property taxes, highway user fees, municipal bonds, and staff health insurance relate to one another, will someone PLEASE stop the Mayor from explaining what she meant? As stalwart as His Honor is, that guy can fold and refold sentences like Your Gilbert trying to remember how to make an origami swan.

Yes, Dear Readers, once again it is time to review the city manager’s annual budget, and once again Your Gilbert wants to crawl under the couch with a nice soft blankie.

We will spare you the details as we wish someone had spared us. It’s enough to say that the city dynamics were played out as first a group of citizens decried high city taxation, implored the council not to raise the tax rate, and expressed shock and outrage that such a thing would even be considered in an economic downturn.

Then came the Old Town Business Association, to remind the council what a good investment the donation it makes to them is.

And so it goes; citizens grouse about the high taxes, special interest groups plead for continued funding.

Councilmember Seamens said he was concerned to see that the 2010 budget proposal spends 2.5 million dollars more than than revenues. Councilmember Dan Robinson observed that the tax burden falls on property owners, since that portion of tax revenue MIGHT be increased to make up for other revenue sources that are decreasing due to the faltering economy.

The biggest expense will be the new public works department facility for which the city will have to take out a loan in the form of a bond. See the last item in last week’s post about the new facility.

Hard of Hearing

April 13th’s meeting included a budget-related hearing on the Constant Yield Tax Rate, as required by state law. Simply put, if the city’s property tax rate is the same as last year’s, people’s tax payments will go up almost 10%. We know, we know. THIS DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. Bear with us!

It works out that way because the state property tax rates increase every year on homes with soaring values. However, those nasty state property taxes only bump up 10% a year so that property owners don’t take a big hit. Due to this area’s volcano-like rise in property values over the last decade, the assessed values have also shot up. There will be another assessment this year, by the way, so those values may flatten or decline.

We got off the track! Easy to do with this stuff. Hurry, Happy Hour!

OK, so if the city reduces the property tax rate a fraction, we’d all be paying about the same taxes as last year. But, given reductions or flattening in other sources of tax income (highway users fees, income tax, etc.), that would mean fewer revenues for the city. (We think we got that right)

Given that, the city is CONSIDERING keeping the same property tax rate so they have the same revenues, and that would mean a 10% raise in city tax.

The council urged citizens to give them input on the budget. There will be another hearing on the constant yield tax rate a the end of the budget process, as the council reminded the public, but citizens can make comments on the subject at any council meeting.

The City Manager made an interesting remark at one point, characterizing the city’s employee benefit package as “rich.” Maybe she can cut a deal with the union to save a few bucks there.
The budget can be downloaded in pdf form from the city web site.

That clock must be broken, it’s barely moved.

Dodge City

The city dodged a few throwing knives lobbed at it by the state legislature. The funds for the city auditorium/city-council chambers renovation WILL be forthcoming from the state’s Project Open Space. So, that should soon be on track.

Legislation banning, limiting, or hindering rent control went nowhere.

The state horned in on speed camera loot, but it won’t much affect the city. A certain percentage of fines from such cameras must go to the state, but the cams would have to top 2.7 million dollars to affect Takoma Park. The formula is that fines exceeding 10% of the jurisdiction’s annual budget go to the state – and the city budget is 27 million dollars. The state did require speed cameras to be set to 12 MPH over the speed limit, and the city will have to comply with that.

What time is it now? Is that all?

Taking the Limit

The city police presented what the chief proudly called the nation’s “most extensive directive drafted to this date” on the proscribed use of license plate scanners. Taking to heart the civil liberties concerns of citizens and the council, the directive greatly limits the storage of license plate data. In most cases the data will be “dumped” at the end of each operator’s shift.

The uses of the scanner will be limited, also. It will be used only to “watch” for stolen vehicles, wanted persons, suspended licenses, and Amber Alerts.

The council expressed great satisfaction with the proposed directive and suggested only a few small changes. Councilmember Josh Wright asked the police that in the future, “ask us before you go for another grant.” The police had presented a request to the council to purchase he scanner AFTER it had procured the grant money to do so.

Make mine a double!

– 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.

1 Comment on "Budge It"

  1. Reuben Snipper, Councilmember Ward 5 | April 17, 2009 at 6:53 am |

    I realize the budget is boring. It is hard to listen to without the materials in front of you, too. But it is where a LOT of policy is made. Tell the Council what you like and don’t like. It is easy — every Council meeting has a public comment period near the beginning.

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