GRANOLAPARK: City tax raise proposed

IMAGE: Architect Gregory Lukmire conducted a tour of the Takoma Park library exterior April 6 prior to the regular city council meeting. He showed where additions could be made as part of library remodeling. Photo by Bill Brown.

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

“Be as honorable with the citizens as we have with the staff,” a resident named Paul begged the Takoma Park city manager and council at the April 6 city council meeting. Paul told them his property assessment went up 40% this year, which will raise his county property taxes. Instead of raising city taxes as well, “give back to the residents.” he pleaded.

Unless the city council has a change of heart, he’s out of luck.

City manager Suzanne Ludlow’s proposed budget keeps the tax rate the same as last year’s. But, as she acknowledges, that’s a tax increase. Property assessments went up this year, and that’s what the tax is based on. The increase will net the city $912,682 over last year’s tax revenue.

“The additional funds are needed to meet city obligations and address council priorities,” says the city manager’s budget introduction.

One of those city obligations is to increase staff salaries, what citizen Paul referred to as “the honorable thing we did for the staff.” The city manager made a convincing case a couple of years ago – if the city wants good service, it has to pay competitive salaries or the good people will leave. This will be the third phase of a gradual three-year increase.

The city manager’s introduction says the budget reflects the city’s “New Era” with a new council, mayor and priorities.

This new era features, according to the introduction, “expanded affordable housing opportunities, improved police/community relations, support for older teens and young adults, and increased economic development efforts in Takoma Junction and along New Hampshire Avenue. In addition, the changing demographics of our community have led to overcrowded schools and the need to consider adjusting city programs and services to meet changing needs.”

More is needed for a proposed new staff position – an environmental code enforcement officer. The officer’s role will be educating the public about – and enforcing – the city’s Safe Grow Zone, polystyrene ban, mulit-famiily and business reclining, and other environmental laws. Ah, how well we remember the Safe Grow advocates poo-pooing the questions about how much the program would cost and where the money would come from. Like, whatEVver, who CARES?

Hours for some existing part-time employees are being increased as well.

New programs and projects to fund are: an affordable housing study, property tax and home improvement assistance for lower income homeowners, continued design work on an expanded, renovated library, the dog park, Colby Park and Sligo Mill Overlook Park, sidewalk and road improvements, a “gateway” project on Ethan Allen Avenue, major community events and arts programming.

The proposed budget would cost $32,600,185. Projected income is $29,787,761, leaving a deficit of $2,812,424. Deficits are typical in Takoma Park city budget proposals, and if they still remain after the budget negotiation/revision process, they are covered by city reserve funds – a sort of savings account.

Fortunately, county law caps tax increase PAYMENTS at 10%. Property owners’ taxes can rise more than that on paper, but those owners can only be taxed 10% more than last year each year until they catch up to the new rate.  By the way, the city manager, with the council’s blessing, recently went to the county council to speak against a bill that would lower that cap to 5%.

Comments, anyone?

Paul (he requested the Voice withhold his last name) was the only resident who showed up at the budget presentation to ask the council not to raise taxes.

Residents still have several opportunities to give the city feedback before the council passes a budget May 18. There are public hearings coming up Wednesday, April 13 (7:30 p.m. in the council auditorium), and Wednesday April 27 (same time and place). Citizens can also make comments before any Wednesday meeting. Can’t go to a meeting? Call, write or email the council and mayor and city manager. Read the budget here.

The April 13th hearing is on the budget. The April 27 hearing – required by law – is on the tax rate. the council will be meeting Mondays through April. These will be special budget work sessions. There will be no opportunity for public comment at the Monday work sessions, but every Wednesday regular meeting has a public comment session.

Where’s the concern now?

We wonder why the city council doesn’t get as pro-active about soliciting more resident comments on the budget as they are about getting more of them to vote?

This would be a great time to hold city council meetings in different parts of the city, as mayor Kate Stewart promised in her campaign. Let the city manger and council make their budget case directly to the revenue source.

Just gotta say this

We’ve been watching the council regularly for over 10 years, and irregularly for 20+ more. Early on when the city added programs and staff, it seemed like a good idea. It is always a good IDEA: more and better services and progressive, environmentally-minded programs. What’s a couple more cents on every $100 worth of your home? Peanuts!

So every year they’ve added another staff person or two (except in the worst year of the recession) and new progressive programs. And again. And again. As the years tick by and costs add up they start to look less like peanuts and more like an elephant.

And over three decades the worth of Takoma Park homes climbed from $50,000 to $500,000 or more. That 58¢ on every $100 of worth starts to add up, too.

Newer residents and council members have the short view. They are at the phase where a tax raise is “only a few dollars more.” Those with the long view see how year to year it adds up to a lot of dollars more.

Notably, the only council member to object to raising the tax was the longest-serving one, Terry Seamens.

He’s also the skinniest, mainly because after his 2014 heart attack he keeps to a strict, healthy diet. He knows the consequences of saying “oh, just this once” over and over and over again.

Saint be praised

Saint Gregory took the city council, staff and several interested residents on a library tour. View pdfs of the handouts showing proposed footprints and conceptual plan:

Existing FP with Dimensions April 6, 2016

New Work FP – Design of expanded Library – April 2016

That’s Gregory Lukmire the architect. Only a saint would remain so calm, solicitous and patient with all the changes and options he’s been asked to make – often by hostile people – to the library renovation plans. That’s not to mention the off-the-wall objections and suggestions, many of them repeated by individuals who weren’t’ there last time.

LibrarytourBBrown-3

Saintly Gregory Lukmire begins the library exterior tour at the front entrance. To the right Mayor Kate Stewart observes. The yellow tape marks the outline of one of the remodeling options. Photo by Bill Brown.

One of those ideas is to build a second story. Once again he explains that the building doesn’t have the strength to support a second story, so extensive rebuilding would have to be done, greatly increasing the cost. There is also a loss of space to stairs, elevators and bathrooms – and more cost. Finally, there is the ongoing cost of the extra staffing required to cover two floors. So, that’s that settled. Until somebody brings it up again next week.

He has a saintly smile, too, as he tells the grumbling flock that, hey, it’s your library, you just tell me what you want and we’ll just keep doing this over and over until you like it.

LibrarytourBBrown-6

The courtyard side at the rear of the library on the parking lot side. Councilmember Tim Male in the foreground scrutinizes the plan handouts. Photo by Bill Brown.

The tour was mostly outside. Yellow tape outlined the shape of a buildout – one of the options. Many were relieved to see that the extension only impacted one of the library’s mature trees.

The tour looked at three areas that have potential for adding on new space. The front, the”courtyard” behind the library facing the parking lot and the space above the police parking garage entrance also behind the library but on the other side.

LibrarytourBBROWN1

This causeway over the police parking garage could also be extended for an addition, or an outside “stroller park” as was suggested by a resident. Councilmember Fred Schultz in brown jacket ponders the layout. Photo by Bill Brown.

Saint Gregory blessed the crowd with handouts showing the footprints of the remodeling options and suggestion of a plan. He stressed that the plan was merely a “conceptual approach.”

When the city turned the old municipal building next door into the massive community center, it extended across what had once been a drive to connect to the library building. The thin connecting section acts as a lobby, computer labs and a room for seniors.

LibrarytourBBrown-1

This is as close as it gets to a mature tree. Photo by Bill Brown

The council has a work-session tentatively planned for the April 13 regular meeting. Comments can be made at the beginning of the meeting during the citizen comment session. PLEASE don’t suggest adding a second story, ok?

– Gilbert

 

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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.

2 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: City tax raise proposed"

  1. Brian Rostron | April 8, 2016 at 2:52 pm |

    “More is needed for a proposed new staff position – an environmental code enforcement officer. The officer’s role will be educating the public about – and enforcing – the city’s Safe Grow Zone, polystyrene ban, mulit-famiily and business reclining, and other environmental laws. Ah, how well we remember the Safe Grow advocates poo-pooing the questions about how much the program would cost and where the money would come from. Like, whatEVver, who CARES?”

  2. Also, the library expansion is absurd, but that’s been well established.

Comments are closed.