More potentially grim budget news was reported by city manager Barbara Matthews at the April 19th city council meeting. The city library budget may face a reduction due to a proposed 22% cut to the county Health and Human Services department. That county department will be meeting April 26 to hash out the details, so the city still has an opportunity to lobby them and the county council on the library’s behalf.
Answering a followup question from councilmember Fred Schultz, Matthews said that the county budget will be settled within 30 days or so – prior to the city’s. Until then, the amount of county revenues coming to the city will not be exactly known.
This means the city manager might have to revise the proposed city budget to account for the further revenue reduction. Next year’s budget already proposes cutting city jobs and other expenses.
Blowback and Forth
Reaction to the city manager’s proposed budget continues – as well as reaction to the reaction.
Councilmember Josh Wright said he shares his constituent’s concerns about the proposed community center hours cutback. During the Council Comment segment of the meeting he said senior citizens are especially upset with the prospect of the computer center opening 2 hours later than it does now (2 PM instead of 12 noon).
The police chief weighed in on last week’s complaints. Last week some city employees, upset with proposed job cuts and a wage freeze, proposed that jobs could be saved if the city cut benefit payments to management positions. The employees, many of them Public Works Department workers wearing ACFSME t-shirts, also complained that the proposed wage freeze would prevent them from earning “pay for performance” raises for their work during last winter’s big snow storm.
Chief Ricucci told them that low earning employees would not be suffering out of proportion. His department would be losing a managerial position, but “I am not complaining or asking for more money.”
If police officer’s benefit payments were reduced, it would be an unfair reduction in pay, he said. Public Works employees, he pointed out, earned overtime pay during the snow storm. Not so for his officers, whose performance during the record-setting storm “some people forget.”
The chief was there to present the city police department’s yearly crime report – just prior to its council budgetary review. The police department is the biggest item on the city budget, $5,761,083, which is $103,786 less than budgeted for this year.
The department will keep the same number of officers on the street, but will economize elsewhere – besides losing the aforementioned management position, other expenses have been reduced or eliminated. For example, the budget for “employee recognition” events has been slashed to zero.
According to the annual crime report, citywide crime is down 8.25%. That’s only “part 1” crimes, which are more serious acts such as homicide (none in the past year), rape, robbery, burglary, larceny, and auto theft. The only one of these that increased is larceny, due to the upsurge of thefts from cars. That, said Chief Ronald Ricucci, is the number one crime in the city. We’re not alone – it is on the increase throughout the nation, he said.
The chief was very pleased with “cutting edge” police involvement in social networking: Facebook, Twitter, etc. The department has 175 “friends” on Facebook. Your Gilbert is amused that this city’s civil libertarians, who rage at invasions of privacy such as license plate scanners or surveillance cameras, willingly share their Facebook personal information.
Councilmember Terry Seamens asked why there were no statistics for drug arrests, a point of controversy for some residents who have been asking for more information about such arrests. The chief explained that the report dealt only with “part 1” crimes, and drug violation are “part 2” crimes
The speed cameras, which were installed a year ago on April Fools Day, were discussed. Revenue has not been what was expected, but was enough to fund 2 and a half police positions, and a number of sidewalk projects.
Income for next year is projected to be $486,000. The police are scouting other sites to locate an additional camera. The corner of New Hampshire Avenue and East-West Highway was mentioned. Chief Ricucci said a mobile camera had advantages over a fixed one (he two current cameras are fixed). There were no installation costs. He didn’t term it this baldly, but the other advantage is that drivers learn to slow down for fixed position cameras, so a mobile camera is more lucrative, er . . . instructional. After all, the whole point of the speed cameras is to get people to drive slower and safer.
That is the case at the current camera locations, said the chief. Traffic accidents are down, and fewer tickets have been issued. Darn it.
Councilmember Terry Seamans stuck up for his Ward 4 constituents. He asked the chief to put the city’s “speed trailer” – a device that measures the speed of passing autos – on Ritchie Avenue. He thought car speed records would shore up that community’s request for traffic diversion from that street. Seamens also continued to object to the priorities imposed by a Safe Routes to School grant, which paid for sidewalks. He said a sidewalk is needed near a nursery school in his ward, but it was not given one because it did not meet the grantor’s requirements. He felt the city should set the priorities, not the grantor.
Dan Robinson expressed frustration that the city has not created an off-leash area for dogs in a local park. During Council Comment time, he claimed that the city manager has had the power to do so for several years.
Spring Park is the area he has in mind. Its field has been used as an informal (and illegal) off-leash dog park for many years. Noting the expressed intent of the police to ticket ($100) dog owners letting their pets off leash in publish, he appealed to them not to enforce the law in city parks for now.
April 19 was Ward 5’s night, and despite councilmember Reuben Snipper’s worries that there would be a low turnout, a number of his constituents showed up to schmooze with the city council. Snipper said he preferred to think of Ward 5, a long narrow section that points north, as a “peninsula,” not, as some resident had apparently just quipped, as “the middle finger of Takoma Park.”
The residents who addressed the council were concerned with traffic, pedestrian safety, the poor state of Flower Avenue’s street surface, after-school activities for youth, and the tree ordinance.
Mayor Bruce Williams explained that Flower Avenue, which is a state highway, is part of negotiations with the State Highway Administration (boo hiss!). Under discussion is a deal that would trade ownership of Ethan Allen Avenue (Rte. 410) to the city in exchange for city maintenance of Flower Ave.
A resident pointed out that children from Ward 5 who attend Rolling Terrance Elementary School are not included in the city’s after-school care program.
Another resident thanked city police for recent speed enforcement measures on Flower Avenue.
The city has signed up for “Veg Week” starting April 24. This is such a big fat target we refuse to waste our finely honed satiric skills on it. A more juvenile and mean spirited person would no doubt suggest that the city is already in a vegetative state, but no, “veg” in this case refers to vegetarianism. And the promoters really are calling it “Veg Week.” Really.