The following is the agenda for the April 26, 2017 City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-april-26-2017/. Starting at 7:30 PM we have public hearings on the property tax rate, the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget, and synchronizing our local elections with Federal, State and County elections. We’ll also have an initial vote on election synchronization, a Council discussion on the budget, a vote on a one-day closure of part of Grant Avenue, and a presentation on traffic calming. Tonight the Council has a 7:30 PM work session on the budget, with a focus on Council priorities. I’ll also be hosting a meeting for Ward One residents who wish to discuss budget and tax issues on Tuesday, May 2 at 7:30 PM in the Community Center Azalea Room.
Last week, the Council unanimously approved a resolution requiring us to consider all our official actions through a Racial Equity lens. This is an exciting and important change to the way our work is structured. And it will be valuable for us right away in our votes on the budget and election synchronization.
Tax and Budget issues. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170426-1.pdf.
As the Council considers the budget and property tax rate -- with final votes in mid-May -- my overall approach will be working to keep Takoma Park an affordable place to live with high quality services and amenities, and supporting initiatives that help promote greater inclusiveness in the City. That approach includes working for a tax rate that’s lower than the rate proposed in the budget, and continuing to support programs that strengthen our community and benefit lower income residents. I’ll be talking more about the budget and taxes in the next couple of weeks. Meanwhile, here are some of the key issues, and my thoughts on the direction I think we should be heading.
The current property tax rate is $0.5675 per $100 of assessed property. The proposed budget (which starts on July 1) calls for cutting that rate to $0.56 per $100, which is higher than the Constant Yield rate of $0.5358. Constant Yield is the rate at which the City is estimated to take in the same overall amount of revenue as in the current year. Even under Constant Yield, it’s still possible that individual residents could see upticks in their tax bills based on whether their assessments have risen.
The proposed .56 rate would mean a tax burden of $560 for each $100,000 in assessed property value. For a home assessed at $400,000 the annual tax would be $2,240. At Constant Yield, the same home would have a tax of $2,143, $97 less than at .56. Compared to Constant Yield, the .56 rate is estimated to bring in approximately $543,000 in additional revenue. To the extent the Council can reduce proposed spending by a net amount close to that figure, we can bring the rate nearer to Constant Yield.
I acknowledge that seeking spending changes that move us toward Constant Yield and supporting new initiatives to provide important benefits to our community, including youth and lower income residents, might appear to work against each other somewhat. However, we can save hundreds of thousands of dollars by, for example, reducing reserve accounts that are higher than needed, not adding additional funds into the Police pension system beyond what’s recommended by the independent actuaries, and holding off on funding for commercial area upgrades connected to the economic development strategic plan that’s still being developed by our outside contractor.
In that context, I think it’s reasonable to support some new initiatives. For example, I’m a strong supporter of the proposed new money for the Library renovation project and the Affordable Housing Fund. While the construction for the Library project will cost in excess of $5 million, with additional costs for equipment, moving, temporary operations, etc., the budget calls for funding the project through a 30 year bond. In my view this type of long-term funding makes sense for a project that will benefit residents well beyond 30 years. Instead of asking current residents to bear a disproportionate share of the costs, we would spread it out over time, with an annual cost of just under $400,000. I believe the Library and the Affordable Housing Fund (funded at $300,000) are two important examples that fit into the overall approach I’m following, and they also mesh with the goals of the new Racial Equity lens.
Election Synchronization Hearing and Charter Amendment. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170426-3-4.pdf. As I’ve noted in previous messages, because voter turnout figures are low for our local elections in odd years (10 – 20 percent), I think it makes sense to synchronize out elections with the Federal, State and County elections that occur in even years (when turnouts run from 40 – 75 percent). The data strongly suggest that with this change we would see substantially larger votes and higher turnout from racial and ethnic minority communities. I also think there’s a good chance we would see more contested local races, in contrast with the current situation where there’s very little competition in our municipal ballots.
In order to synchronize, we have to change the City Charter to not only move to even years, but to make these changes: set the term for the Mayor and City Council elected in 2017 to one year (the other option would be three year terms – I don’t think as an elected official I should vote myself a longer term); move our nominating caucus to the second Tuesday after Labor Day (a week or two earlier than our current system); extend the time for certification of election results (from 24 – 48 hours, in case it takes longer to count the ballots, given the other races being counted); and change the day when the newly elected Mayor and Councilmembers take office (this reflects the change in our regular Council meetings from Mondays to Wednesdays). I’ll be voting in favor of these Charter changes
Grant Avenue Market. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170426-5.pdf. For several years, the Old Takoma Business Association has sponsored the one-day Grant Avenue Market, an event that features vintage collectibles and requires closure of part of Grant Ave. where it intersects with Carroll Ave. The Market will be held on Sunday, May 14, from 10:00 AM – 3:00 PM, and the street closure hours are 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM. I’ll be voting for the resolution to carry out this closure.
Traffic Calming. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170426-6.pdf. I look forward to the presentation from City staff on this set of issues, which follows up on the recommendations from the Safe Roadways Committee that were provide earlier this year. Among the key recommendations by the Committee – apparently shared by City staff -- is to move toward a single type of speed hump. I agree with that idea.
Please let me know if you have questions or comments about any of these agenda items.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One