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.
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.
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.