Many Cooks

Dear Readers,

They called it “Reconciliation” but it looked more like “Divergence.”

The goal of that Thursday April 30 city council agenda item was to come up with a consensus plan for balancing the budget, but each councilmember had his or her own plan, and the city manager had one or two, herself.

City manager Barbara Matthews, though fiercely protective of city staff jobs, saw two places to reduce expenses: employee insurance benefits and a hiring freeze. She also floated the idea that the city could start charging user fees for such services as vacuum truck leaf-pickup.

Councilmember Josh Wright said the tax burden might be reduced by the average amount the city collects every year for its reserve fund. He also thought a small across-the-board budget reduction would save money without causing layoffs or service reduction. Councilmember Colleen Clay suggested a hiring freeze and job shifting in what she has called the “top-heavy” Recreation Department.

Councilmember Terry Seamens thought the Public Works Department’s new facility should be put on hold for a while. He also called for a 3.5 cent (per $100 real estate assessment value) reduction in the property tax rate.

At the end, the city manager got them to find some common ground. They all agreed they don’t want to have any employee layoffs. They all agreed they want a reduction in the tax rate. The city manager floated a 2-3 cent reduction, but councilmember Clay said 2 cents was not enough, and councilmember Seamens lobbied again for 3.5 cents.

The city manager, who has been burning barrels of midnight oil to deal with requests from the council to provide additional budget information, will burn more as she makes a list for the May 4th city council meeting showing how different cut percentages would effect city departments.

– 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 "Many Cooks"

  1. Anonymous | May 4, 2009 at 10:13 pm |

    How about not printing text in light gray on dark gray background??

  2. That’s the standard design for all of the Takoma/Silver Spring Voice blogs. We will pass the feedback on to the editor, but in the meantime, try increasing the font size in your browser.

  3. Across-the-board budget cuts are the refuge of the timid. Either keep all the programs that are justified to be kept and charge taxpayers the price or identify specific cuts to be made.

  4. Most likely scenario:
    1/ The City manager comes up with a devastating estimate of the impact of cuts in the budget she proposed;
    2/The Council members who have little notion of whether that is realistic or not (as contrary to the Mayor’s campaign promise, the Council has not undertaken an in-depth review of each City department) reverse their current position;
    3/ The budget passes pretty much as proposed either with a unanimous vote or with one abstention.
    In other words, the City Manager is likely to maintain her perfect record in getting what she wants.
    With the very high share of personnel expenses in the City budget, talking about reducing the budget while leaving personnel expenditures untouched is nonsense as it would only affect the means for that personnel to do their work, i.e. pay the personnel to do less. But to decide on where to cut personnel, it would be necessary to have a sound understanding of how each department operates and what it contributes every year. And that is just what the Mayor has failed to do despite his promise.

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