The following is a link to the April 5, 2017 City Council meeting agenda: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-april-5-2017/ The key items are a public hearing at 7:30 PM on the proposal to synchronize our local Takoma Park elections with Federal, State and County elections (which would mean moving our elections to even years), and the City Manager’s presentation of the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (which begins on July 1). In addition, we’ll be voting on an ordinance to provide additional funding for a previously approved contract for security improvements in the Community Center, and on a settlement of the pending court case concerning access to Winding Hill Way.
Election Synchronization. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171405-1.pdf. As I have explained in previous messages, I support the idea of shifting our municipal elections to even years in order to increase voter turnout. Takoma Park’s local (odd year) election turnout is typically around 10 - 20 percent, but it increases to 40 – 75 percent in even years. While having a higher local election turnout is a desirable goal, there will be a few differences in our voting process if we approve synchronization. The two most significant changes in our Election Day experience would be residents having to vote in two separate spots at each polling place (one for our municipal ballots and one for the rest), and having several voting precincts in the City, instead of all voters and Council and Mayoral candidate coming together at the Community Center, as we currently do.
That first change is slightly less convenient, but other communities (including Ocean City, MD) have not seen major problems with the two separate voting areas. And, the slight inconvenience would be offset by not having any elections in odd years. I recognize that having multiple precincts as opposed to one single site at the Community Center may reduce the small town feel of our Election Day. But I think that will be more than offset by increased engagement in our local political process as a result of the switch. Those are my views – we have the public hearing this week so residents can express their own thoughts on this set of issues, including specifically whether we should go forward with the synchronization move. I encourage any interested residents to attend the hearing. There will be a second hearing on April 26, and you can also express your opinion at any of our regular Wednesday City Council meetings.
Fiscal Year 2018 Budget. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171405-2.pdf. As noted above, our annual budget process, which is scheduled to finish on May 17, will kick off with a presentation of the City Manager’s budget, which can be seen here: https://dwpl4lfcfux0y.cloudfront.net/initiatives/FY18-Proposed%20Budget%28withlinks%29.pdf. The Council will have special work sessions devoted to the budget on three upcoming Monday evenings (April 17 and 24 and May 1), and residents will be able to offer comments at our regular Wednesday Council meetings. There will also be a public hearing at our April 12 meeting. In addition there will be a budget open house on Thursday, April 6, from 7:00 – 9:00 PM in the Community Center Azalea Room, where residents will have an opportunity to discuss budget matters informally with senior City staff.
I urge anyone who cares about local issues -- including specifically how municipal tax dollars are spent – to attend at least some of these meetings. In addition, I recommend perusing the budget proposal document. It’s a lot to absorb in one sitting – I’m still working my way through it, and I’ll have a lot more to say about it as the process unfolds. For now, I’ll offer up a few bottom line points.
The proposed budget calls for a reduction in the current local property tax rate from $0.5675 per $100 of assessed property value down to 0.56. Even with this rate cut, because property values have continued to rise in Takoma Park, many homeowners would still see a modest increase in their tax bill. In order for the City to take in the same total amount of tax revenues as in the current year, the tax rate would have to be pared down to .5358. There are important budget priorities I support, including for example moving forward on the Library redesign project, which if approved will entail additional funding. So, my approach as we move forward on the budget will be finding a balance that adequately funds key priorities, while taking into account the need to hold our tax rate down to help keep Takoma Park an affordable place to live. It’s too soon to predict where we’ll end up, but I’ll be looking forward to input from residents of Ward One on how best to meet these goals.
Community Center Security Upgrades. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171405-4.pdf The Council previously approved a security upgrade contract in the amount of $37,759. As work on the project has moved forward it has become clear that further funding of $12,831 is needed to address security needs at the Community Center. I’ll be voting in favor of the ordinance providing these added funds.
Winding Hill Way Settlement. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20171405-5.pdf. This agreement will resolve a dispute between a property owner on Flower Avenue and Takoma Park over access to Winding Hill Way, a City street that runs from Piney Branch Road to Flower Avenue. The property owner has barred access to Winding Hill Way at Flower Avenue. Taking into account the uncertainties of litigation to regain control of access to the area in question, I decided on balance that it would be a prudent course to resolve the matter through the settlement negotiated by our City attorney. The settlement calls for a one-time payment to the property owner of $15,000. Along with this payment, the settlement includes provisions for keeping access to Winding Hill Way open to the public during the day and in adverse weather conditions, with a lock-box that can be opened at other times.
As always, feel free to be in touch with questions or comments about any of these agenda items.
Takoma Park City Councilmember