The city council left us with a cliffhanger at the end of 2009. Would they approve the application for a $3 million state bond to finance renovations to the Public Works Department? Would the councilmembers find answers to the questions they wanted resolved before committing to taking out the loan? Could they make this momentous decision before the January application deadline?
The short answer is YES. At the first meeting of the year January 4, the council voted unanimously to proceed with the application to borrow $3 million.
The Long Answer
Councilmember Josh Wright voiced a number of misgivings about the deal. He had reservations about the scope of the work because of the possibility the city would make changes to the Public Works department that would reduce or alter its physical plant needs. The city has the option to save money by handing over some Public Works functions to the county. Sanitation was the function most mentioned. But, Wright expressed frustration that the city staff had not provided enough information to aid decision making. The staff provided figures showing relative costs of sanitation, but not other functions.
City manager Barbara Matthews explained that she and the staff had focused on sanitation because it was the most expensive and the most pertinent. Handing over other Public Works duties such as road work or equipment maintenance would have no or little impact on the physical plant or the renovation costs, she said.
Ms. Matthews cautioned the council that the staff recommended borrowing a smaller amount and making up the difference with reserve funds (savings accounts that the city salts away for just such major expenses). Staff recommended that course particularly if the project were scaled back, she said.
Mayor Bruce Williams seemed unaffected by this advice, he said the yearly bond interest payments were $226,000 a year, “not a big price to pay” for the renovation.
Councilmember Wright commented that most taxpayers would think “that’s real money” and would say “don’t spend it if you don’t need to.” He cautioned the mayor that the state could have another surprise budget cut next year, and such amounts are “nothing to sneeze at.”
The mayor retorted that the increased cost of doing the project later at higher interest and construction rates was also nothing to sneeze at.
The mayor, councilmembers Reuben Snipper and Fred Schultz all cited the favorable conditions that convinced them to proceed with the bond. Schultz said “Timing is critical” because it looks as though the Federal Reserve may raise interest rates soon. If the economy improves, the cost of construction will rise, he said.
Most of the councilmembers were under the impression that even if the loan were secured now, there would be “flexibility” to alter the renovation plans to accommodate possible Public Works changes. City manager Barbara Matthews crushed that hope, cautioning them that the architecture plans are completed “at 100%” and ready to go out for bid in January. “If you want to revisit the plans, do it sooner than later.” she said.
And so, the council jumps off the cliff, wings out and flaps down, assuming it will catch an updraft. The flying machine isn’t quite finished, and they may need to change the flight-plan, but they say they can take care of those details in flight.
Your Gilbert is working up a case of Major Annoyance with professional drug legalization activists. Amber Langston, of Takomans for Intelligent Marijuana Enforcement (TIME) presented results of a questionnaire to the council. The questionnaire asked “In order to focus police resources on violent and property crimes, would you support a local ordinance directing police to stop arresting people for possession of marijuana for personal use?” 304 of the 424 residents who replied said “yes.”
According to an article in last month’s Takoma Voice by Anu Nathan, Ms. Langston helped pass marijuana decriminalization initiatives in Columbia, MO before moving to Takoma Park.
To their credit, the council was not fooled by the patently faux concern for conserving “police resources.” And they were underimpressed that the activist was unaware that city police already do not go after marijuana users unless the users are engaged in other crimes.
Ms Langston’s goals are identical with those of decriminalization activists that some say hijacked the Citizens Public Safely Advisory Committee (CPSAC). Former members of that committee charged that the activists tried to refocus the committee on just such an ordinance as TIME promotes. Due to this and other issues some committee members resigned and CPSAC was disbanded by the council.
Your Gilbert is reminded of the other ordinances professional activists like to bring to Takoma Park, knowing the city is a liberal pushover. We hope the council doesn’t fall for this one, if only because of the way the drug decriminalizers have gone about it. That’s not to mention that we’d like the city NOT to be known as the patsy for every progressive lobby group.
We have nothing against pot smokers – other than their unwise choice of drugs when there is so much legal alcohol available (maybe that’s why they call it “dope”). But, we wonder who or what is behind the nationwide push to decriminalize. We don’t know, but we suspect there are large corporations itching to market marijuana. Your Gilbert thinks a major industry selling a product combining the worst aspects of tobacco and liquor would be a bad thing.