GRANOLAPARK: Profits of doom

IMAGE: Mayor Kate Stewart and Councilmember Tim Male back on friendly terms as the long Budget Reconciliation session ends, May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Brown.

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Before the Takoma Park city council turned the city tax raise down from high to medium, they prophesied a costly future, barked and growled at one another, and fine-tuned the budget recipe until almost-midnight.

The city manager’s proposed tax rate – a boiling hot .585 – was lowered to a simmering .5675. That means less money, so some ingredients had to go or get reduced. That led to long-winded dickering over just how far to turn that knob down, and how to adjust the recipe.


What that means in dollars:

The average Montgomery County home is worth $464,000, according to a recent Washington Post article. City taxes for that average home last year were $2714.

But this year, that home is worth more by an average increase of 25% – about $580,000.

So, under the new proposed rate the average homeowner with an average increase will be paying $3292 in city taxes, $577 more than last year.

Citizen Paul Who-Does-Not-Want-His-Name-In-Print’s home has gone up 40% in assessed value, as he told the city council repeatedly last month.

If he has an average home it is now worth $649,600. Citizen Paul would then be paying $3,686 in city taxes, $972 more than last year.


Adjustments were ok, as far as city manager Suzanne Ludlow was concerned. She expects it. But the bottom line was that she be left with a $3 million buffer in the General Fund. That’s the kitty she likes to have in case she backs the city bus into the garage door AGAIN, or some other city drops in unexpectedly and she has to send the deputy city manager out for soda and snacks.

Brandy preferred

The May 4 meeting was mostly dedicated to this adjustment process, which they call “budget reconciliation.” We’d rather be boiled in cheap brandy.

Odd to call it “reconciliation” considering it started with a spat. Council member Tim Male accused Mayor Kate Stewart of over-stepping her powers. Rather than go through and voting on the optional items one by one – the usual practice in recent years – the mayor started off the discussion by presenting two options, each a combination of items.

Male objected that it was a fundamental change in how the council does budget reconciliation. To him it looked like a policy change, the mayor was directing the budget process.

Yeah, well, she did mention this to the council in an email after working on her lists for the EN-tire weekend. You do read your email, right?

Well, right, but he noted this big change wasn’t announced to the public. What is this, “Seven Days In May?”

The rest of the council, Yours Truly and the other observers were all thinking, “For this kind of bickering I could have stayed home with the family.”

Councilmembers cleared throats in unison and said hey, the option A and B thing isn’t so bad, really, we kinda like it. Chill, guys.

But, to be sure, they got Stewart’s assurance that It wasn’t an either/or choice, the council could change the options around.

Maybe it sped things up a little, but they still ended up going down a long list of items and voting on each one.

New position stays in

The new staff position – Environmental Code Enforcement officer – was kept in the budget, as were the extra hours for part-time employees.

Councilmember Tim Male was the lone nay-vote on that line item. Of all the council members he was the most avid to reduce tax rates and expenses.

The environmental code enforcement officer will be the person charged with educating the public about the city’s various environmental laws, and enforcing them: Safe Grow (the herbicide ban), the polystyrene ban, business and multi-family home recycling, invasive vegetation and the plastic bag ban (pending) and so forth. Now, what to name that position, mused council member Qureshi.

We’ll turn that question over to you, Dear Readers. Submit your suggestions as a comment below (new commentators are moderated, so there’s a delay).

Ultrasound scan for city

Looks like we’ve got another bun in the oven. Councilmember Fred Schultz is the proud poppa. He’s suggesting creating a full time economic-development position. The city pays contractors for that kind of service, but Schultz thinks it should be an in-house. Not this year – but they did get a

This is a position that would pay for itself and a lot more, said Schultz. He and council member Jarret Smith are both hot to get New Hampshire Avenue developed. That, they say, is the only way homeowners can get tax relief.

Because Development is on the crawl from DC, which is boom-boom-booming. Since Takoma Park is right next to DC and a bit cheaper, Those People are moving here, driving up home values. Which drives up real estate taxes.

Housing will become more and more expensive, Smith said. And, because the city has put no resources in affordable housing, “we will be under extreme pressure because of what’s going on in DC.”

That’s why the city needs programs that provide housing affordable funds, he said, such as the one in this year’s city budget – a $400,000 item.

Fred Schultz picked up the doom and gloom theme. Yes, DC development is driving up home prices. But, salvation is near! We must develop New Hampshire Avenue, make it a shopping destination, and watch the bucks roll in. Those rolling bucks will ease the tax burden on homeowners, he said.

Brag or bust?

Speaking of employees paying for themselves. That was one of the big selling points for creating the Sustainability Coordinator staff position. The position would PAY FOR ITSELF in energy savings and sustainable practices that employee would implement.

So, how’s that going? Has the sustainability coordinator saved the city enough to pay for the position? We have nothing against the Sustainability Manager (as the position is now called), but it seems like if the city promises something, there should be follow-up. If the position does pay for itself and maybe more, the city could brag about it and it would encourage other cities to create similar positions, and the next thing you know, we’ve saved the planet!

– 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.

3 Comments on "GRANOLAPARK: Profits of doom"

  1. The economic development position would have made sense 15 years ago when major tenants such as Giant and Safeway were leaving New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard. As it is, the Purple Line is going to do the work that Takoma Park, unlike, say, Hyattsville, did not do – https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/prince-georges-approves-deal-to-revitalize-university-town-center-in-hyattsville/2013/11/12/230908fc-4b17-11e3-9890-a1e0997fb0c0_story.html

    Oh well, who needs groceries when we have ineffective yet invasive measures that we as taxpayers inevitably end up having to pay for? Oh, and did people actually claim that the Sustainability Manager position would be self-supporting? What a joke.

  2. Fred Schultz | May 7, 2016 at 11:00 am |

    When it comes to growling about the tax rate on Takoma Park taxpayers, you may be barking up the wrong tree. About 64% of our property tax bills are charged by Montgomery County and the State. In 2009 our tax rate was 60.5 cents compared to the County’s 79.6 cents. What has happened since then? Our 2015 tax rate has dropped to 57 cents, while the County’s rate risen to 86.9 cents. Takoma Park’s went down 3½ cents, while the County’s went up 7.3 cents. Worse, that trend is widening. City Council is tentatively proposing an even lower rate of 56.75 for the coming fiscal year, while the County has proposed an even higher one. We cannot afford to raise our tax rate because the County is constantly raising its rate! The County is taking a larger and larger portion of our tax “pie.” Mind you, we have no control over assessments or the County’s taxation. What’s the point? Your and my property tax bills are going up almost totally because of the County. If you and other taxpayers want to snap at someone, take it out on the County, please.

  3. In regard to your last question and many others:

    Meet Tony, the City’s Ombudsman. Not our ombudsman but we should have one too.

    http://www.coralgables.com/index.aspx?recordid=1816&page=30

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