It may be an important building but it’s not $47,713 important!
That’s what a majority of the city council said in a straw vote at their Nov. 15 meeting). They wouldn’t surrender half ($23,856.50), nor a quarter ($11,928.25) a year of tax revenue, as the mayor took a series of straw votes on increasingly small fractions.
The giveaway (or no-giveaway, as it looks now) was for a nonprofit affordable housing project. An organization is purchasing Parkview Towers, a run-down 125-unit apartment building on Maple Avenue. They are asking the city to waive property tax payments for the next ten years so they can use that money to fix the place up.
That organization, Montgomery Housing Partnership (MHP), buys, renovates, and manages several affordable housing projects in the county. They have other properties in Takoma Park, including the Edinburgh House – for which the city has been waiving fractions of its property taxes for 15 years.
Earlier in November the city agreed to waive half of Edinburgh House’s taxes for an additional 10 years. That amount, about $6,200 yearly, is much smaller by comparison to the nearly $48,000 yearly amount requested for Parkview Towers.
So when MHP president Robert Goldman approached the council with his hand out for the second time this month, all he got was bite marks.
As the council made clear, the city can’t afford to be big-hearted with it’s budget money right now. Tax revenues are down at all levels of government, which makes the city a mugging target for the state and county. Everyone predicts that next year will be even worse.
So, as worthy as affordable housing is, the city kinda needs that $48,000. As a number of councilmembers pointed out, that’s a city employee’s job they’d be giving away – probably LIttle Nell’s (the one with rickets and a cute puppy). And that’s not something they want to be confronted with by the employee’s union at budget time.
Not all the council straw-voted with the majority. Councilmember Terry Seamens, in whole ward Parkview Tower’s sits, voted consistently for the waiver (called a PILOT – Payment In Lieu Of Taxes). Councilmember Reuben Snipper switched to “yea” when the fraction was 50% or lower. “Less than 25%” got one more vote. Councilmember Fred Schultz was absent, and his just might be the swing vote. Four votes makes a majority.
It ain’t over yet! There’s still the actual voting to come. Dear Readers Who Have Been Paying Attention will note that when the Edinburgh House tax waiver came up the council majority hopped on and down on their desks, throwing mud clots at the MHP president. But, in a watered-down form it picked up enough votes to pass.
That could happen again! The pressure in on councilmember Schultz. Already Terry Seamen offered to mow lawns in exchange for votes, and councilmember Colleen Clay countered, “I’ll make you a better offer!”