IMAGE: Resident Laurie Hill, speaking at the plastic bag-ban hearing, shows the city council her sustainable dry cleaning bag. Photo by Bill Brown.
GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT
Monday was hell. Wednesday was worse.
Monday night, April 11, was the first Takoma Park city council budget meeting. Yeah, it was deadly. But two nights later the city council found something deadlier – the cable television and county memorandum of agreement on franchise fees. See? You’re glazing over already.
Councilmembers were forced to don oxygen masks because the air molecules fled the room.
One turns out
First, Monday’s budget meeting.
There was exactly one resident in the audience, Arthur David Olson – the only non-city staff, non-politician person ON THE PLANET who attends more council meeting that Yours Truly. He’s also a lot smarter when it comes to budget stuff. His take on the meeting was that there was a lot of talk about bond (loan) funding of large projects, particularly the Flower Avenue Green Street and Ethan Allen Gateway projects. The council gave little resistance to the idea, he noted.
The city manager also talked about reserve funds such as the Equipment Reserve Fund and the Facilities Maintenance Reserve. which serve the same purpose as savings accounts.
Nobody on the council took issue with the city manager’s proposed tax hike. But at the Wednesday April 13 regular meeting council member Fred Schultz mentioned that he’s been getting a lot of calls and emails opposed to it. And he noted, “It affects me too as a homeowner on a fixed income.”
Ahem, cough cough!
In related news, the Montgomery County executive has DROPPED most of the county property tax increase he earlier proposed from 3.9¢ to 2.1¢!! That’s the amount homeowners would pay on every $100 of assessed value.
It’s still an increase, but it is no longer a whopping one.
According to the county information service, County Executive Ike Leggett proposed the reduction following the announcement by Governor Hogan that he is … not exactly letting the county off the hook, but putting it on a series of smaller hooks.
Maryland’s counties got into a pickle when the Supreme Court ruled that taxing resident’s out-of-state income was not nice, not nice at all, and they have to give it back, and they can’t do it any more.
The governor allowed a bill to pass that that extends the repayment schedule.
Of course, this doesn’t erase the fact that though the counties did something wrong on the INCOME tax, they are increasing the PROPERTY tax to pay for it. Reminder: income taxes are progressive, property taxes are not.
Condos for codgers
The Wednesday meeting included a budget hearing – an opportunity for residents to comment. Seven people did so. About half of them were there to lobby. For instance, the Friends of the Library president and another resident were there to support library renovations.
Ellen Cassidy had a unique idea. Older residents such as herself, she said, are getting to retirement age, living on fixed incomes and getting “priced-out” of their homes. We’re the ones who created the Takoma Park subsequent generations have been drawn to, she said. We continue to contribute, not in taxes, but in other ways to this community. We want to stay here. So, she said, how about the city create condos for us to live in?
How about putting senior condos on the Washington Adventist Hospital land once the hospital moves, she asked.
Former council member Reuben Snipper suggested the council reduce the “rainy-day fund” to enough to keep the city going for a two month period. That’s the generally accepted guideline, he said, and there’s no need to keep a surplus – as the city does now.
He also pointed out that the city police department was expanded years ago at a time of high crime, but the crime rate is down recently. Yet the police budget keeps increasing, and it is about half of the entire city budget. There’s no need to cut personnel, said Snipper, but department growth should be slowed.
Troy Jacobs of Ward 5 thanked the council and staff for their work on the Ethan Allen Gateway and Flower Avenue Green Street projects. He urged the council to fund the expensive projects with bonds (loans). He said he was concerned, however, that Flower Avenue shopkeepers – an ethnically, nationally diverse group – might not survive the construction period.
The ever-present Arthor David Olsen urged the council to keep the equipment reserve fund well fed. The equipment reserve is the savings account the city keeps to buy big expensive stuff – like dump trucks and police cars. With these savings they can buy with cash, not take out loans – which cost more in the long run because of the interest charged. Every year the city has been chucking in around $900,000 for future use. This year the proposed budget puts in $800,000. Olsen asked them to put in the full $900,000, especially since it is considering taking out bond loans.
Who hates plastic more?
There was a second public hearing, this one on the proposed plastic bag ban.
Plastic bag haters urged the city to ban them. There were no plastic bag lovers on hand to object.
Kit Gage, Friends of Sligo Creek president, favored the exceptions that allows the Sunday Farmers Market to continue to use bags. But Ward 2 resident Laurie Hill said she was “disappointed” by them. People would adapt, as she has, to a plastic-bag free lifestyle. She displayed a pile of re-usable containers for every occasion from bagging produce to picking up dry-cleaning.
Plan B for outer space
Last week’s walk around the library exterior and seeing yellow tape outlining the potential footprint of the proposed library expansion/renovation made the council land-hungry. The bump-out makked ayb the yellow tape didn’t look anywhere as big as it did on paper. And look at all the available space – without taking any trees down!
Many on the council were drooling for “Area B,” the space currently occupied by the flagpole between the current library and Philadelphia Avenue.
This came out in the city council work-session discussion April 13. Looking at 12 little maps, each showing a renovation option, they called out their favorite combinations – like they were ordering Thai food. They also called out options not on the menu – building on Area B or taking down (temporarily) the art mosaic on the east wall and bumping out in that direction.
See the maps in higher resolution and other related documents here.
Cost was a more of a factor for some than others. Councilmember Fred Schultz was mindful of other major renovation projects, the police station, the community center, the recreation center and the public works department.
Councilmember Jarrett Smith reminded his colleagues that construction cost was only for the bare building. Count of 40% more to construct the library infrastructure, he said. He’d like to keep the total cost under $4 million.
Next step is to get the cost of each option. Stay tuned.
Anything but that!
They saved the even-deadlier-than-the-budget work session on the cable television and county memorandum of agreement on franchise fees for last on Wednesday night.
At one point council member and lawyer Rizzy Qureshi asked the city’s attorney and council to speak in plain English so constituents would know what they were talking about.
Maybe the discussion got clearer after that, but who in their right mind WANTS to understand, anyway?
If you’re actually interested, here’s the brief. Otherwise skip this bit.
You don’t really care about this, do you?
The county charges the cable companies for the use of public infrastructure, The city gets a cut to maintain its city tv services. The deal negotiated in 2006 is yielding a lot of money, more than the city can use on just tv services. A new deal would get less money but with few restrictions on how it is used.
The question is whether the city wants to enter into this agreement between the county and cable services or not, and whether it should ask for changes.
At the council discussion April 13th, it sounded (between naps) like joining the agreement is the better course. They may ask the county for niggling changes. Like they always do. And we wonder why the county thinks Takoma Park is a pain in the butt.
What, you’re still reading? Congratulations, you are officially a wonk!
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