I’d like to welcome everyone back from Thanksgiving. I trust it was a good opportunity to have a break and reconnect with family and friends. The following is a link to the agenda for the November 29, 2017 City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-november-29-2017/. This will be the last City Council meeting for this year. I myself will not be present for this week’s meeting, as I’ll be attending to a personal matter, though I hope to call into the meeting if I’m able to.
There are two voting items on the agenda: a contract for the City’s traffic study connected to the Takoma Junction development, and a resolution setting the dates for the Council’s winter recess. There will also be presentations on the City’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, and on the financial condition of our Police Pension Plan.
Before the meeting, the Council will convene at 6:30 PM in a closed session to discuss matters related to collective bargaining with AFSCME, the union representing City employees other than police officers.
Traffic Study. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171129-1.pdf. As part of the ongoing work on the Takoma Junction project, the City will be funding a traffic study, separate from the study that Junction developer NDC will undertake. It’s my hope that our study will be a useful complement to the NDC study, in particular because it will take a wider view that not only considers options for improving traffic flow through the Junction, but also looks at the traffic impact on nearby side streets.
When this contract came before us prior to Thanksgiving, I was one of the Councilmembers who raised questions because the company that submitted the winning bid (the Traffic Group) is the same company that is conducting the NDC traffic study. It’s my view that it will be preferable for two separate companies to be involved to ensure we aren’t limited to a single firm’s data and methodologies. I’m pleased that we put the contract on hold at that point to allow a broadening of the study parameters and to seek a wider range of applicants. In advance of Wednesday’s meeting, City staff will be recommending their pick for what amounts to a second solicitation for this contract. I would note that the Traffic Group is still one of the applicants.
In addition to my concern about the potential for the same company conducting both studies, I would like to get clarifications on a few other points, including 1) what the expected overlap between the NDC and City studies will be; 2) the extent to which non-automobile traffic will be included in our study; and 3) how our study will incorporate delivery truck traffic tied to new businesses that will be opening at the Junction.
Winter Recess. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171129-2.pdf. The resolution establishes this week’s meeting as our last for the year, with our reconvening set for January 3 of next year.
Annual Financial Report. This agenda item has two components, a staff background memo and the financial report itself.
The City Charter and State law require an annual independent audit of the City’s finances. I’m pleased that once again the auditors didn’t identify any material weaknesses, nor did they observe any instances of noncompliance or other matters that are required to be reported. So, this is basically a healthy financial report card. That being said, the report itself is a document that’s over 100 pages in length, with lots of informative data, and I’ll be combing through it. Resident who are interested in the details of the City’s finances may wish to do the same.
Police Pension Plan. This agenda item also includes both a staff memo and an outside report.
In 2001, the City established a separate pension plan for its sworn police officers. That plan allows officers to retire after 25 years of service or at age 62 with 5 years. Previously they were covered by the State of Maryland plan, which provides for retirement after 30 years. Bolton Partners, Inc. provides actuarial services for the Plan and prepares an annual valuation. The July 1, 2017 valuation is used to set the employer contribution for the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2019, which is $1.33 million. The Council has traditionally provided in each year’s budget the amount recommended by the outside actuaries (and sometimes more).
A key concern is the extent to which we are continuing to make progress toward reducing risk in terms of our unfunded liabilities. As outlined in the actuarial report, there are several ways of measuring this, and, despite an overall increase in the value of the fund, the level of risk has increased according to some measures. So we should give some consideration in next year’s budget on whether to provide funding beyond the amount recommended by Bolton Partners.
As always, please be in touch with any questions or comments about these agenda items.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One