GRANOLAPARK: Deadly beyond imagination

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

Dear Readers,

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.

12designoptions042016

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!

– 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.

10 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: Deadly beyond imagination"

  1. Anyonesmouse | April 15, 2016 at 8:06 pm |

    This place is ridiculous. The city manager proposes a tax hike! Doesn’t impact her. She gave herself a raise so she makes $172,000 a year. Lori Hill is on about plastic bags? I’ll use them just to piss her self righteous ass off.

  2. Of course, the tax hike doesn’t affect Ms. Ludlow. She’s smart and lives just outside of Takoma Park, thus enjoying its amenities without paying its excessively high taxes. And, yes, she makes $172k.

  3. 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.

    This statement is bizarre.

    First, to the extent that Takoma Park is desirable, it is because it is a close-in suburb near public transit. Are long-term residents claiming credit for our geographic location?

    Second, how are long-term residents being “priced out” of Takoma Park? If it is due to property taxes, then a) they bear responsibility for the city’s profligate spending for decades and b) should have substantial home equity due to considerable property appreciation that should allow them to pay said property taxes. Also, didn’t they save for retirement?

    Third, why should we waste a prime location for commercial development for “senior” condos when there are literally hundreds of rental properties in dilapidated conditions in the immediate area? Why doesn’t someone buy and improve these properties? I mean, apart from the obvious reason that the excessively low level of normal rent increases discourages such investment.

    • Anyonesmouse | April 16, 2016 at 12:29 am |

      You sir, are the voice of reason. But you are endangered. Asking anyone around here to take responsibility for the ridiculous, revenue sucking policies is taking his or her life into their hands. I will say that not everyone who retires has paid off their home. I know I won’t be able to. But I don’t expect to retire here anyway–and certainly not if the best retirement incentive is to sell my home so I can live in some senior condo around a bunch of aging hippies! Takoma Park would be affordable to a lot more people if it had a realistic tax base, ended rent control, got rid of the arborist, reduced the bloated salaries of useless city government officials, and dropped the plans for the library, which would be better if they reverted to the Montgomery County library system and turned the TP library into a crafts and skills center or a realistic municipal gym with good equipment, or anything not duplicating what the county offers. As to the dilapidated rentals–if landlords could charge market rates, they could attract responsible tenants, and we’d have a tax base and quality housing stock. But that wouldn’t feel good to the hippies. It would do good for the city, but I guess that message is lost.

  4. I believe my hearing comments got misconstrued — understandably as I did some last-minute truncation to fit the time limit –and sure I can have a bit of brain/mouth disconnect. Yes, I do support bonds to help tiny cities with small budgets to take on big projects. Yes, I am concerned about the viability of Flower Avenue Green Street anchor areas and how residents and businesses can be better linked to those anchors. I do believe the Long Branch immigrant businesses can and will survive any construction — but this is not about surviving — but thriving communities in the long-term. The green street work contributes to that aim. There are other nuisances so interested readers can look at my written hearing comments below — and which hopefully more-or-less follow what I said at the budget hearing in abbreviated fashion:

    I want to thank City Staff and Council for their sustained interest and support of projects like the Ethan Allen Gateway and Flower Avenue Green Street. I encourage Council to seriously think about bonding and cost-sharing for vital projects like these. As a Ward 5 resident, let me take a moment to talk a little more about the Flower Avenue Green Street; as illustration but I’m sure some of the same things I am saying about it could be said of the Ethan Allen project.

    The Flower Avenue work is critical to Ward 5 but it is also critical to Takoma Park. Many Ward 5 residents visit the Long Branch business area far more than they visit downtown Takoma Park – this area straddles Takoma Park and Silver Spring at roughly Piney Branch & Flower. Like the Washington Adventist campus, it is an anchor point for the Flower Avenue project. A business area ran by African American, Ethiopian, El Salvadorian and others — vital, important to Ward 5 but also should be considered an important asset to other Takoma Park residents. We are concerned about the current Flower Avenue because this route is unsafe for walkers, bikers, and vehicular traffic – very dark at night; with no sidewalks on one side; potholes; speeding and accidents. As residents we are working to improve the appearance and safety of these areas; to grow these businesses so that not only Ward 5 residents want to walk, bike, bus, or drive there — but so that all Takoma Park residents want to visit these areas. But it is more than physical improvements to the street. I would also point out for those of us in Takoma Park that want to be able to enjoy untainted creeks the storm water improvements are needed — so this project is more than just fixing puddle nuisances for our ward’s residents but doing something in the larger community’s environmental interest. The Flower Avenue Green Street improvements will address these issues.

    We see these projects as part of and linked to a larger holistic solution for the built environment and vibrant communities. It includes modest activities like the work already that residents, the Long Branch Business League, CHEER, and other stakeholders are doing to improve the appearance, safety, and long term sustainability of this vital corridor and its anchors: Little activities like community gardens and “Flowers on Flower” to activities tackling bigger issues like the impact of the Purple Line on businesses and residents in Long Branch, Langley Park, and Takoma Park. Again, the focus is on linking and building diverse communities that not only are sustained — but thrive — and where people own a piece of their future. As we move from design to implementation we are looking to leverage additional resources beyond the City to truly build a culture of health.

    These projects are also about better demarcating what is Takoma Park – both of these projects are entrees into Takoma Park and set the stage for visitors and residents alike that may not be aware of such boundaries. There are opportunities to build more obvious and durable signs into our city – gateway signs into the city. These projects are also occasions to modulate traffic through calming measures so people take notice that they’ve now entered into our City, and highlight an obvious line has been crossed.

    Ward 5 residents are already noticing improvements as these projects move along. While it is counted as a “green” improvement for Flower Avenue, residents have commented positively about the new “blue” LED lights that have already improved visibility for walkers and drivers – and thus, improved not only City energy efficiency but our safety. We look forward to additional “green” and safety improvements — and hopefully some are “green” in terms of vegetation.

    We are at a bump in the road in terms of the budget. There is a funding gap. It is encouraging that the Flower Avenue project has wide endorsement as reflected in an array of funders including Federal, State, and Foundations. The City has a role. Given our city’s small size and budget we need to consider bonding for large durable projects like Ethan Allen Gateway and Flower Avenue Green Street to get us past these bumps. I also encourage the City in discussions of cost-share with WSCC to reduce the burden on Takoma Park’s budget in addressing remaining gaps. The Ethan Allen Gateway and Flower Avenue Green Street projects are do-able projects – projects within our City’s reach, projects that are good for the City and all of us.

  5. How does substantial home equity pay property taxes? You can only pay property taxes with cash. The assessed value of a home is meaningless until you sell it – except you’re forced to pay taxes on the speculative value regardless of whether your income can support that much.

    But I think Ms Cassidy was making a sarcastic point (hope so, anyway) – that since the oldsters are priced out by the taxes and rising home costs, bringing in a new generation of well-off, tax-me liberals, let the new folks pay for the old priced-out folks’ condos!

  6. Anyonesmouse | April 16, 2016 at 12:34 am |

    Well-off, tax-me liberals. I’m a pretty liberal person. But I don’t think spending till you bleed is the solution for everything. Sometimes cutting line items, getting value in services and personnel, and allowing people to charge what they want in the businesses they own (including rentals) goes a long way. Tired of the uuber libs shoving their socialism down everyone’s throat.

  7. Gilbert – Where is the list of income and wealth for Takoma Park residents kept? I’ve lived here for almost decade –but I’ve never seen this list — many residents and you know who is “well-off” and who is not. Possibly these conclusions are based on superficialities which could be way off? Possibly you are closing some mental door in the process?

    I am mindful of the anxieties of people on fixed incomes with their wealth tied up in their houses. I am also mindful that we can grow the city — or we can close the door and let the city die and disintegrate. I share a disdain for taxes; believe that truly well-off residents and businesses need to shoulder more of the burden; and believe that we must look for the right mix of solutions — which should include bringing bonding and cost-sharing into the mix to lower the tax burden for current residents. I’m sure there are other solutions we can put in the mix. For me, this mix needs to allow the city to grow so that a diverse array of people want to live here now and in the future.

  8. Doc, it’s not entirely clear what you are referring to or what your point is in the first paragraph.

    As for taxes and how the well-off and businesses should shoulder a proportional burden, the problem there is that by state law municipalities such as Takoma Park can only use property taxes to raise income. They can’t use an income tax. And they can’t tax businesses on profits (which would be the sensible thing), only on the building (which is usually owned by the landlord, not the business, so the landlord is the one paying the tax) and on inventory property tax – the worth of the goods they have in stock, with no regard to whether the business is successful or not. Our local small businesses are constantly lobbying to have that reduced or waived, btw.

    Changing state law so municipalities could use an income tax system would be very difficult and would take a long time.

    Maybe municipalities are barred from using income tax because then the income tax “hit” would be so huge, state legislators fear constituents would throw them all out of office. That’s the reason they put fees on public services and impose taxes on alcohol, etc., and why they legalized gambling (a cut of which is used for education, allegedly). People don’t notice a series of little bites as much as they do one great big one.

    As for bonds (loans), yes it might reduce a raise in taxes (never lower taxes, you can be sure). It seems like a reasonable way to go, as long as the city doesn’t get too far into debt. We have other big building projects coming up in the near future. The city manager uses a calculation to determine what’s a reasonable amount of debt, and, if memory serves, she said that bonds for the library and Flower/Ethan Allen projects would not exceed the limit.

  9. Anyonesmouse | April 27, 2016 at 9:20 pm |

    Lori Hill (aka, Sister Eden) is another of those upper income, perfect anglo liberals who is completely out of touch with the reality of Takoma Park as she like others of her ilk are sequestered in their cookie cutter homes, far away from the rent control and section 8 housing where the folks who can’t even dream of owning a home in Takoma Park live. it’s time we focused on things that lower taxes and bring real business into Takoma Park and quit wasting time and money on ridiculous, practically unenforceable legislation. I’m wondering why Sister Eden isn’t concerned with plastic bottles that find their way into the creek and litter everywhere around here. She can kiss my butt if she gets between me and the plastic bags I shovel my cat’s crap into. Considering there’s nothing available to buy here, it’s doubtful any stores will be impacted by them anyway. I’m so darn tired of the vocal minority asserting that they are the voice of Takoma Park. News flash Sister E, Takoma Park has lots of voices and yours isn’t the most important.

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