Beyond the Budget

Dear Readers,

The council would like to have a little heart-to-heart discussion with you. You can’t go on like this forever, you know, not as long as the economy is as soft as a warm marshmallow – and likewise burning at the edges.

Property values may sink into that marshmallow, and property values are what the taxes are calculated on. When those start going down – as good as that sounds to taxpayers – it means the city will have less revenue, and . . . then what?

That’s what the council wants to chat with you about. What services are you willing to reduce or give up? Doubtless, this does not mean axing the entire police department or library. It means, perhaps, no vacuum truck leaf pickup, or Sunday community center hours. I might mean paying fees for some things that are now free, or paying higher fees for community center room rentals.
The council solemnly vowed to hold community meetings on this once the budget is settled this week.

Final Act

The stage was set Monday May 4th for the final act of the budget settlement Thursday May 7.

In response to the councils questions and suggestions city manager Barbara Matthews presented data on which to base a final decision.

Her memos remind the council that they did not want to cut any departments or even any currently filled jobs in order to balance the budget.

She listed a number of other expenditures that could be cut, and she dutifully noted what service the city would lose or what consequence it would suffer as a result. Unsurprisingly, almost all of these options noted that “staff does not recommend” cutting them.

Matthews did encourage the council not to fill all or some of the now-vacant employee positions, and to consider cutting reserve funds in the 2010 budget. These reserve funds are what amount to city “savings accounts” that are used for special contingencies, to buy equipment, take care of emergencies, or pay for an important unbudgeted expenses. Every budget has included an amount to put aside in these reserve or emergency funds. Also, money that would have gone to budgeted items, but doesn’t (say in the instance of the unpaid salary of an employee who leaves and is not replaced right away) gets tossed into these funds, too.

Over the last three years there have been from 1,300,000 million to 3,400,000 million, approximately, in these unreserved funds.

The council mulled this information over and indications are that they will each present specific plans at the May 7 meeting.

If the rough ideas they voiced are any indication, their plans will involve keeping some of the employee positions open, make the least painful expenditure cuts, and, as Councilmember Josh Wright termed it, “sharpen pencils around the reserve” funds.

Wright also stressed that “nobody has suggested giving a tax cut” or cutting services. Their goal, he said as been to limit increases on tax rates.

Wash Out?
An car wash entrepreneur and his architect came before the council to present their plan to build one of t heir car washes on NH Avenue. They were at great pains to cast their operation as upscale – referring frequently to their similar car wash on upper Wisconsin Ave. NW, in DC. (or as they referred to it “Chevy Chase, DC”).

They reassured the council that their setup avoided any traffic blockages, and they came prepared with data showing that noise would not be a problem. They were less prepared for questions about how “green” the operation would be, and details about the suds content of their storm water runoff.

They seemed open, however, to putting in a LEED certified green roof, and other environmental concerns. They also claimed to be unfamiliar with the city’s charette plan for NH Avenues redevelopment.

Though a car wash does not fit in with the charette plans for that specific spot, the council did admit that it fits in with current use – a couple of adjacent gas stations. So, though chilly at first, they warmed up to the idea a bit.

Three neighbors from adjacent Sligo Mill Road, however, spoke loudly against it during citizen comment period.

– 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.

10 Comments on "Beyond the Budget"

  1. Anonymous | May 7, 2009 at 6:57 pm |

    why don’t we deep six this city, which doesn’t provide one single thing that we haven’t already paid for to the county – save ourselves some money, and send these hucksters on their merry way?

  2. Seth Grimes | May 7, 2009 at 10:19 pm |

    The city has had RECENT opportunities to cut positions. I have advocated this publicly but the city has, until now, shown no interest. Here’s the text of a letter from me that that Voice published in the October 2008 issue, advocating one such cut which would’ve been a start. (The issue is on-line at .)
    Tax duplication steps for NOW
    Tax duplication — residents’ double-payment to the City of Takoma Park and Montgomery County for services both offer — should be high on the city’s agenda for remedy, yet to say that progress has been slow is an overstatement. We haven’t exerted the right political muscle, and the economy makes the job harder. Fortunately, we have an ideal opportunity, right now, for a different approach. It could free city funds for needful programs or even give the city council the option of a tax reduction. But City Manager Barb Matthews is reluctant to give it a shot. Let’s hope we can change her mind. Let me explain.
    They city’s Housing and Economic Development (HCD) department is responsible for landlord-tenant and planning functions. Those latter functions duplicate work done by county staff—work paid for by our taxes—yet the city doesn’t receive an HCD “rebate” from the county.
    I wouldn’t eliminate our city planning department, which does good work in Takoma Park’s residential and commercial areas. HCD delivers planning services that go above and beyond what the county government offers (elsewhere). That’s a benefit of having our own city. Our city of 18,000 has needed two planners because we haven’t been looking to the county to provide the same level of basic services areas outside Takoma Park enjoy, services we here in Takoma Park pay for but don’t receive.
    With the resignation of the city’s associate planner, it’s time to look to the county to deliver planning services we already pay for. No city layoffs or service cuts would be involved, just a shift in who does some of the local planning work.
    City Manager Matthews thinks, given county staff allocation, “it would be difficult for the city to obtain greater planning assistance from the county.” I’m up myself for working with her, our elected officials and county officials to make an attempt.
    We should be pursuing other steps recommended by the city’s Tax and Service Duplication Issues (TASDI) committee in 2005. (I was a committee member.) A task force is looking at county “rebates.” Other efforts, to redress unfair state formulas that allocate a too-small portion of income-tax and other revenues to cities, haven’t even achieved the bit of progress represented by the appointment of a task force.
    Getting Montgomery County to deliver planning services that we in Takoma Park pay for is an achievable first step in addressing the city-county tax-duplication issue. It would save the city money without impacting services. There are no good reasons not to try, and significant benefits if we succeed. All we need is a bit of political muscle. I hope and expect our city government will be up to the job.
    —Seth Grimes
    Takoma Park, MD

  3. Cassandra | May 7, 2009 at 11:48 pm |

    In reply to Anonymous who believes that the city doesn’t provide “a single thing that we haven’t already paid for to the county,” in fact our city taxes include trash pick up and our county taxes do not. Non-Takoma residents of Montgomery County pay a fee for trash pick up in addition to their county taxes.
    For those wishful souls who want the county to provide rebates or other funding to our city to offset a tax inequity, the reality is that the county is laying off employees and imposing upaid furloughs. Given those circumstances, it is unlikely that the county will hand more money to our city for anything. In truth, it may not be realistic for the City of Takoma Park to entirely avoid the kinds of cuts the county is making.
    As for staff recommendations, well, what staff in the private or public sector ever recommends cutting its personnel or budget? That would be saying that some part of their work isn’t vital.

  4. To Cassandra:
    True, our TP taxes include garbage pick up that is not included in MontCo taxes. However, the size of the additional fee that non-TP home-owners have to pay for the that service pales compares to the additional thousands dollars in annual taxes paid by TP home owners for alleged “better services” that are never specified.

  5. You’re looking at this the wrong way. Instead of eliminating city services, we should eliminate the unresponsive, bureaucratic COUNTY services.
    – Gilbert

  6. Anonymous | May 11, 2009 at 8:43 am |

    Well Gil,
    There is no more unresponsive, bureaucratic govt than we have sitting in our city gym!
    Fire them all.

  7. Anonymous,
    Based on what evidence or personal experience?
    – Gilbert

  8. Anonymous | May 12, 2009 at 2:39 pm |

    I would write more, but presently I’m shooting virtual basketball in the Takoma Park virtual gym –

  9. Hasn’t that horse been beat to death enough? There’s only about three people left on the council who had anything to do with that mess, and there’s a different city manager now.
    And, the gym plan wasn’t unresponsive – it was TOO responsive, they tried to give everyone what they asked for.

  10. Anonymous | May 13, 2009 at 3:33 pm |

    That “horse mess” of a community building is going to haunt us for long time; take look at your tax bill.

Comments are closed.