The debris from the big budget bust continues to shower down. The city government is bracing for another bust – or two. Meanwhile the city budget lies trembling on the chopping block as the city manager measures, remeasures, and measures again just where on the neck to drop the ax.
She won’t know for certain until the county budget is passed at the end of May. The May 10th county council meeting will settle the biggest threatened cut. The city could lose $600,000, and would then have to cut that amount from next year’s city budget.
The county’s Management and Fiscal Policy Committee made two recommendations to the council NOT to make the cuts. But each recommendation calls on the council to repeal half the cut. So, if one passes, the city will lose $300,000 in revenue. If both pass, the the swinging blade will miss the city entirely.
That’s not the only cut threatened, however. The county also wants to cut 22% of the city library’s budget.
Suzanne Ludlow, Deputy City Manager, reported to the city council April 26 on the county Health and Human Services Committee meeting she attended. This meeting was to discuss the proposed 22% cut to libraries, including Takoma Park’s. Though the Takoma Park library is not in the county system, the county rebates city resident tax money in proportion to what other county residents pay for county libraries.
In fact, the amount given to the city is a percentage based on a formula written into county code. The code must be changed by county council vote to make the proposed cuts. However, without the formula, Ludlow pointed out to the committee, it would be impossible to predict how much the city would get year to year – making the city manager’s annual task of writing a city budget proposal difficult.
Ludlow had a brief dialog about this with the committee chairman, county councilmember George Leventhal (a Takoma Park resident). Ludlow suggested not discarding the formula permanently, but making it a one-year exception. Leventhal said “how about two years?” she reported to the city council.
After their exchange Leventhal made some changes to the proposal that would reduce the cut from up to $20,000 to $6000 – 11,000. That’s after factoring in the city manager’s foresighted lowball estimate of what the county would be paying in this year.
Library Not Fine
Speaking of the library, it was that department’s turn to submit to the city budget work session review. The library director Ellen Arnold-Robbins listed off the cuts made to positions and programs. Next year’s proposed library budget (pending more cuts) is $985,448, a 2.7% decrease. A part time employee (the book shelver mentioned at previous meetings), and a full time position have been eliminated.
And that’s just the cuts made to conform to the current budget. She and the council were mindful that deeper cuts will have to be made, and perhaps much deeper cuts as well.
The council came up with various schemes, such as charging fees to non residents, and pointing out to the county how much time library time is given over to local schools.
Councilmember Dan Robinson thought a different retirement fund might be in order. He noted that every line item in the library budget has decreased – except for fringe benefits. Why was that, he asked. The city manager stepped in to explain that the cost of participating in the state employee pension fund has gone up this year. Some years it goes sown, she said. Unfortunately, it has gone up in one of the most cash-strapped years.
The library director also outlined some positive things, including that the Friends of the LIbrary has instituted foreign language programs in French and Spanish, and that book circulation has increased.
A senior citizen from Victory Towers, a residence for seniors, was upset about proposed cuts in Computer Center hours, as well as cuts in the library staff. She offered her services and those of other seniors who wished to volunteer. The mayor thanked her and said the city might take them up on that.
Could volunteerism be the solution, Dear Readers? Groups like Friends of the Library could be the means of sustaining services through the city budget cuts. This could be a test of just how crunchy-granola Takoma Park really is.