The council considered amputation, but decided to save the limb. Some of them came prepared to saw away, if necessary, but the diagnosis showed city sanitation services (trash and recycling pickup) were rosy-pink healthy and worth saving.
Public Works Dept. service cuts were suggested when the state, hammered by the bad economy, withheld expected revenue from the city. It was unfortunate timing. The city had just decided to make costly renovations to the Public Works Department. So, the renovations have proceeded like a driver with a flat tire – still focused on getting to his destination, reluctant to stop, and hoping he can get there on three good wheels and one mushy one.
Anxiety over the economy, high taxes, and the city budget has sparked discussion about where the city might find ways to lower the budget and taxes by cutting city services – and maybe stopping, reducing or reconfiguring the Public Works renovation.
Easy to say, but hard to do. For every taxpayer who wants relief, there is at least one other taxpayer (sometimes the same taxpayer) who doesn’t want to give up services. The renovations are strongly supported by most of the council, so the project continues toward construction.
But, to address the anxiety, at its Feb. 8th meeting the council agreed to look at potential Public Works service cuts that might affect the ongoing renovation plans. They didn’t want to erect an expensive new building only to cut the service it housed.
Sticking it to MoCo!
A service cut might not only save taxpayer’s money, it would stick it to the county. One option is to force Montgomery County to provide a service that the city discontinues. This would be poetic justice. The city is permanently PO’ed that the county does not return the city’s full share of tax revenues, forcing residents to pay (partially) for duplicate county services we don’t get. Vengeance would be OURS!
But not so fast, Masked Avenger! The fact is, as councilmember Colleen Clay informed the rest of her colleagues, sanitation service is not one the city pays twice for.
Outweighing the Cons
Councilmember Fred Schultz laid out the reasons for keeping sanitation services. Residents would end up paying about the same or even more in fees for similar county or contractor services. Unlike city taxes, fees are not a tax deduction.
The city, Schultz said, would lose staff numbers and flexibility to deal with emergencies (such as the recent 2 ft deep snowstorm). The sanitation crews make up the second shift that the city often calls upon to drive snowplows.
As Schultz and other councilmembers stressed, it makes no sense to end a reliable service that gets high resident approval. “Why are we looking at this first?” queried Councilmember Terry Seamens.
And, finally, Schultz said that if the county took over, residents would be dealing with a larger more remote entity. Basic functions should be kept close to home, he said. As councilmember Dan Robinson said earlier, “spend our own taxes on our own staff and equipment.”
A Little Off The Top
Since they had their scalpels and saws out already, the council suggested other trims they could make. Schultz asked the Public Works director Daryl Braithwaite if her department could get by with just one of the two new trucks the city was planning to buy. She said it could.
Terry Seamens said that cutting fall leaf pickups and allowing leaves to “compost in place” would not only save some money but would be a good environmental practice. The council pondered this with a long “hmmm, how’s that going to go over with service-demanding residents?” sort of pause.
Seamens also suggested scrutinizing lower-rated services, such as the Recreation Department, as places to cut.
Public Works director Braithwaite passed on Councilmember Josh Wright’s suggestion (he was not there, Mayor Williams posed the question on his behalf) that the department power its trucks with compressed gas as the county does. Braithwaite said the department tried it 15 years ago and it was, she said, a disaster. It was not cleaner or cheaper, she said, adding that new diesel engines are efficient and can use bio-fuel.
Heading another suggestion off at the pass, Mayor Williams warned that if the city handed road maintenance over to the county, residents would not be happy with the result. The city is on a 20 year street replacement cycle, the county is on a 40 year cycle. The county, he said, would therefore not begin to replace the most worn city streets for another two decades.
So, Dear Readers, looks like the Public Works renovation is going to make it on three wheels.
Speaking of snow emergencies, this most recent storm was a bit much even for Takoma Park’s crews and equipment – though the city is, as usual, better dug-out than surrounding jurisdictions. The city offices and community center are closed today, Monday, Feb 8. The councilmembers all put on snowsuits this morning and went outside to make snowmen. Next council meeting is Tuesday, Feb. 16.