GRANOLAPARK: Speed addiction?

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

Some of the Takoma Park staff and city council had an odd reaction to good news last week. Speeding traffic has been significantly reduced in the city, reported the acting city manager. Yet, instead of rejoicing for the increased pedestrian and motorist safety, there were glum faces and worried tones.

It  couldn’t POSSIBLY be that they are mourning the loss in speed camera revenue? No, of course not. As the police, council, and staff have said at every opportunity – the speed cameras are for safety, NOT revenue.

To be fair, the loss was not only due to drivers slowing down, there were also weather outages, traffic slowed by constrution, and delays in deploying new cameras. And then there was that inconvenient court ruling that late-fees could not be imposed on speed-camera fees. Some on the dias were clearly resentful that they could no longer exploit organizationally-challenged Americans.

Speed camera revenue projection is down $1,769,223. That’s a reduction of more than half of the original budget projection, roughly $3,300,000. Those funds are used for a number of city expenses related to safety: new sidewalk construction, and some police salaries.

Not that the city would dream of depending on speed camera funds, because, after all, the cameras are for safety, NOT revenue, but this loss and a bunch of unexpected expenses: police overtime, the rising cost of ammunition, and anticipated cost to open the library Sundays beginning May 1 – an expansion of Library hours the council insisted on – required a budget amendment March 11.

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Heat map

Not all the council joined the mourning-party. Terry Seamens reminded the council that their  “previously stated policy was to establish speed cams to reduce accidents.” he said,” not for revenue generation.” As showdown-a’comin’ music played in the background, Seamens announced that he would raise this issue at the next meeting.

Councilmember Tim Male said he would prefer the city stop using speeding-fine funds to pay salaries. Traffic safety is the priority, he said, so perhaps the city should be sure the cameras are focused where the most accident are.  He slyly requested a “heat map” showing where most city traffic accidents occur. It would be helpful to the public, he said, “to know where driving safety is important.” In other words – if the city is serious about this being a safety issue, let’s put the speed cameras where the the accidents are, not where we know we can catch the most speeders.

Your Glbert wonders how this will add up – reductions in speed camera funds, the council unafraid to spend revenues on such  things as increased library hours and green initiatives, the city manager lobbying for expensive renovations to the community center, department heads lobbying for more staff, a slight reduction of property values (where a lot of the city’s revenue comes from) – meaning thatt the tax rate may have to go up to get the same amount

Bonfire of outrage

The previous week’s bonfire of outrage was almost dampened by the Mar. 11th meeting. Staff apparently included a controversial plot of land in a request to reauthorize the “enterprise zone”  along the New Hampshire Ave. corridor.  The purpose of the zone is to encourage development along the city’s fairly seedy eastern border. It does not change the area zoning, but gives tax credits and other incentives to certain types of business projects.

That part was ok, but it looked like the scheme included the Washington-McLaughlin School property which touches New Hampshire Ave, but extends far into the residental neighborhoods to the west. Part of the acreage is forested. Local activists have opposed developing the plot for 2 decades, according to a letter from resident Sandra Filippi made public by the city. She and others were outraged that the city would ignore that, and that the city’s communication about it was so poor.

A public meeting on the matter March 4 was, by all accounts, a shout-fest. A resident commented at the March 11 city council meeting that city communications had been miserably poor.

The council Mar. 11 discussed the issue, the reapplication, and the school property. The school property is NOT included in the enterprise zone, but its future is still of great concern. The property is not being much used, the building is in bad shape, but the land is worth a great deal of money.

– Gilbert
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