GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
Hey, remember your money? That tax money the county returned to you?
Yeah, that tax-duplication rebate that went to Takoma Park six months ago. That money?
Maybe you don’t remember because it went bye-bye. The city council voted 7-2 to hold onto it because the recession was bad and Romney might win. We might need that money, best to wait.
But now, the waiting is over! Romney is defeated, and the recession isn’t as bad. That’s what council member Fred Schultz reminded his colleagues at the Nov.19th city council meeting. The were discussing, again, what to do with about $650,000 in tax duplication funds, and $750,000 the city manager was holding to pay down a bond loan. That adds up to $1.4 million.
On the level
Schultz, as he does, methodically stepped through his level-headed logic for the sake of the public and other council members. He said he supported holding onto the money in those anxious days in May, but now he doesn’t. He’d like to return it to you by reducing the tax rate this year.
Unfortunately, this may be a minority view.
Councilmembers Terry Seamens and Seth Grimes voted last May to return the money via tax-rate cut in May. They mentioned this, but, they also each had a list of things to spend it (or the other pot of money, or both, it wasn’t clear) on.
Seamens noted he was “originally” for returning the rebate to the taxpayers, but “since the council didn’t agree,” he’d prefer to use it to pay down debt on municipal bonds. Those are loans the city takes out to fund large building projects such as the new Public Works building. Seamens would also like to modernize the city library, bringing it up to date with digital publications.
Grimes also said he also originally favored returning the money to taxpayers, but he now favored paying down debt. That, he said, was a way of repaying taxpayers.
Er, hold on there, said council member Schultz. Actually, the reason the city uses long term financing in the form of bonds “is so we don’t have to use up all of our cash.” It’s the same reason people get 30 year, not 10 year, mortgages. Paying off a chunk of a loan would be pointless considering the “historically low interest rates,” the city has been able to get.
“My inclination” said Schultz of the $1.4 million “is to use some for programs, some to reduce the tax burden.”
Taxpaying in place
Councilmember Kay Daniels-Cohen, asked if there was a way to lower the tax-rate permanently. No, said acting city-manger Suzanne Ludlow, the council sets the tax rate each year.
Otherwise, Daniel-Cohen’s interests lay in funding the revitalization of Takoma Junction, a “teen-gardener” position, opening the city library on Sundays, and programs for seniors. She, Grimes, and council member Jarrett Smith were fired up by citizen effort for seniors they call “aging in place.” This appears to be a program to help senior citizens stay in their Takoma Park homes as they age.
It is ironic that instead of reducing the tax rate, these concilmembers would favor spending the rebate to fund a program to find out what seniors need to stay in the city. As council member Schultz pointed out (again, Mr. Level-Head) retired people on fixed-incomes, such as himself, are faced with increasing property tax assessments and therefore higher taxes every year. “I’ve lived here a long time and it’s depressing, the assessed value goes up,” said Schultz.
Councilmember Tim Male was not in attendance, and Mayor Bruce Williams didn’t express a strong opinion about what to do with the money, though he predicted a future in which the county turns the city’s tax-duplication arguments “on their heads,” and institutes a new punishing tax system on us.
The Big Issue
Tax duplication has been Takoma Park’s big issue for decades. The county takes city resident’s property tax money and keeps it for county services. But, the city provides some of the SAME services, so the county by rights should turn over that portion of the tax money. They turn over some, but not enough, so the city has to include those costs in its own taxes. SO, residents end up paying twice. Citizens and their representatives have been ranting about this since at least the 80s. Studies have been done, negotiations entered into. And, this is the first time the city has had such a rebate.
The council discussion will continue in January, Dear Readers.
Until then, you can wonder if you’ll ever see your money again. Don’t wonder too hard. As Fred Schultz said, the council “will never find a shortage of ideas to spend this on.”