Whatever

Dear Readers,

The council sounded like an exasperated, but permissive, parent.

“You want to borrow the car and get a ten-year’s advance on your allowance and stay out until dawn AGAIN!!?? That’s the fourth time! I’m BEGINNING to feel like you’re taking advantage of me!”

“Whatever.”

“Well, . . .er, um, OK, I guess. IF you are home by midnight! BUT THIS IS THE LAST TIME!”

“Whatever.”

For the second time in a month the city council blustered, griped, and threatened to vote down a request from MHP to waive tax payments – and then granted it.

MHP is the Montgomery Housing Partnership, a nonprofit group that buys properties around the county to turn into affordable housing projects. Last month MHP asked for a tax waiver, or what it calls a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) for Edinburgh House. A council majority groused about it at first, but the waiver amount was reduced and many of their concerns were addressed by the time the vote came up – so it passed.

This time MHP asked that taxes be waived for Parkview Towers on Maple Ave. Robert Goldman, MHP president, asked for a 100% waiver for ten years. That would have denied the city around $48,000 a year, and a total loss of $480,000 over a decade. The council counter-proposed a smaller amount and shorter duration. The city offered a 50% waiver for 2 years, followed by a 25% waiver for three. The total would amount to $83,000.

Doing the Trick

Even though at the November 15 meeting most of the council seemed ready to turn the dogs on Goldman and tack a “NO SOLICITATION” notice on the chamber door, the November 22 vote was unanimous in favor of the revised deal.

As Your Gilbert reported previously, the council by a raise of hands turned down a series of smaller and smaller waivers November 15. The mayor got down to “less than 25%” and still had only a minority of 3 hands in the air.

Apparently halving the number of years and decreasing the percentage of revenue the city would lose did the trick.

Some were still grumpy about it. Josh Wright said he doesn’t want to see any more proposed tax waivers from MHP. In fact he tagged a motion to that effect onto the proposal.

Councilmember Dan Robinson quibbled with the term “payment in lieu of taxes.” Such payments, he said, are what tax-exempt institutions voluntarily make instead of tax payments. The deal MHP is seeking “is not a payment in lieu of taxes, it’s a giveaway!” he said.

Councilmember Fred Schultz said that though he supported the waiver, he was concerned about upcoming budget cuts. He said if the city has to raise the tax rate next year, he doesn’t want to face constituents asking why their tax rates were raised when MHP got a tax break.

Not all were so grumbly. Councilmembers Terry Seamens and Reuben Snipper said that Parkview Towers was an “important” city building that has fallen into exceedingly bad shape, so renovating it is to the city’s advantage, and should be supported.

Awkward

An awkward moment for Robert Goldman came when Councilmember Reuben Snipper, who supported the waiver, asked what he thought would be a friendly question. He asked what cuts would have to be made to the renovation plan if the city wouldn’t give the full 100% for 10 years.
Goldman hemmed and hawed, and had no ready answer.

There was an undercurrent of suspicion and resentment in some council comments that MHP was trolling for as much money it could get, and putting the council on the spot – suggesting that the project will fail if the city doesn’t pony up.

Though Councilmember Colleen Clay said the Parkview Towers plan seemed a “better deal than the last one,” she took Goldman to task for coming to the council “with these dire requests for 100%” tax waivers. She told him she’d prefer he come to them with “what you REALLY want.”

Dan Robinson also said that the dire condition of Parkview Towers suggests that “our policies” – meaning rent control – should be looked at to see if they contributed to the apartment building’s decline.

Hot Stuff

Slipping on their asbestos mittens, the council picked up a corner of the season’s hot topic. They considered the question of whether to take over Flower Avenue from the state, which would involve annexing the street from unincorporated Montgomery County.

But they could still feel the heat through the mittens. The process of annexation is different from usual city procedures. As Colleen Clay described it, “vote first, hearing second,” contrary to the city council’s method. That, however, is the way state law says it mst be done.

The council was nervous that there might be no turning back once they vote to have a hearing. As Councilmember Josh Wright said, it “feels like a boulder going down hill.” He said he was not inclined to vote for it.

City residents voiced their own misgivings. Lynne Bradley, former city councilmember, cautioned against annexation. She said the city was letting the county shirk its duties. She urged the city to encourage the residents on the non-incorporated side of Flower to pressure the county to fix the street and make it “green” as the city hopes to do. It should be a city/county/state partnership, she said.

Small Change

Don’t you hate it when you form a committee to review small community grants, but when they show up to make their report, the staff pulls out information that – had the committee only known it – would have made different recommendations?

The Small Community Grant Review Committee thought a few thousand dollars of the city’s small grant fund should go to a food bank program. But the staff disagreed because that program got a big federal grant – a fact the staff did not previously share with the committee, and one that the committee said would have changed its recommendation.

The council, drumming it’s collective fingers on the dais, was unhappy with what Councilmember Fred Schultz called a disorganized procedure. The staff should have shared its information with the committee beforehand, he said, not as part of the presentation.

As the committee is new and the staff not used to working with it, the council made allowances this time for a confused process. “We’ll have to fix it!” said Councilmember Clay.

The issue was tabled until next January, giving the committee time to coordinate with staff and revise recommendations.

The council voted to proceed with hearings 5 – 2.

– Gilbert.

About the Author

Gilbert
Gilbert is the pseudonym of a hard-bitten, hard-drinking, long-time Takoma Park resident who maintains the granolapark blog. Gilbert and William L. Brown — Granola Park's mild-mannered chief of staff, researcher, and drink pourer — have never been seen in the same place at the same time.

1 Comment on "Whatever"

  1. PILOTs are steering the Council into the waters of financial misconduct. Real property taxes are second to none for generating revenue that drives the City’s operating budget. For all the bleeding hearts, Takoma Park supports affordable housing! Now that someone has made the statement, can we get back on track to fiscal responsibility.

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