The following is a link to the agenda for the May 17, 2017 Takoma Park City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-may-17-2017/. We’ll have final votes on the property tax, stormwater fee, and 2018 City budget, which were all approved on preliminary votes last week. In addition, the Council will take up a Budget Policy Resolution, which lays out some key objectives connected with the budget that we plan to emphasize in the coming months. There will also be a vote on technology upgrades to the Council chamber, and a presentation on the New Hampshire Bikeways proposal.
Election Synchronization Approved. As I’ve reported a number times in messages to Ward One residents, I’m a strong supporter of moving our local elections from odd years to even years in order to increase voter turnout. I’m pleased that last week on a 5 – 2 vote the Council gave final approval to this switch, which will apply to elections after 2017.
The original proposal would have limited the terms of Councilmembers elected in 2017 to one year, meaning that synchronization would start in 2018. However, during Council debate, we considered an amendment to give Councilmembers elected in 2017 a three year term, with synchronization kicking in for the 2020 elections. I opposed this amendment for several reasons: I thought it was inappropriate for us to increase our own terms in this fashion; going with three years will lock in for a longer period the low turnout effect; and working out the logistics of the switch to even years for the first time in a Presidential election year (2020) when the turnout is much higher than in a Gubernatorial year (2018) seemed unwise to me. However, I was on the losing end of that amendment, which was approved on a vote of 4 – 3.
So, Councilmembers chosen by voters in November 2017 will have three year terms, and our next local election after that will coincide with the 2020 Presidential election. While I’m disappointed in the passage of the three year amendment, with passage of synchronization I look forward to significant long-term improvements in our local election turnout. That would be a valuable development in its own right, and it also has the potential to increase minority community representation on the Council.
Property tax, stormwater fee, budget. I’m providing two links, one to my previous explanation of the key votes on budget amendments from our Council meeting two weeks ago, and a second one that summarizes the three final votes this week.
Last week, I joined all my Council colleagues in giving preliminary approval to the reduced property tax rate and the budget on 7 – 0 votes. I voted against the increase in the annual stormwater fee from $55 to $92, but the fee increase was approved on a 5 – 2 vote despite my opposition. These budget, tax and fee proposals require two votes, so we’ll vote again on all three this week, and I anticipate that we’ll see the same results as we did last week. Again, these will be the final votes on these three items.
Once we complete those three votes, we’ll have an additional vote on the Budget Policy Resolution: (https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170517-4.pdf). I think it’s a good idea to bring forward this resolution to help clarify some key points that emerged from our budget and tax discussions. I’m in general agreement with its provisions, though there are a few areas where I have concerns.
As mentioned above, I disagree with the stormwater fee increase. But I’m pleased that the stormwater language in this policy resolution includes references to the upcoming impervious surface study (which could lead to changes in the fee structure) and the possible program to recognize homeowners’ actions to address stormwater, an idea I have advocated for previously. On the housing reserve fund, I think we should spend at least 30 percent of the funds that have been set aside. 15 percent seems to low, and I’ll be pushing for a change in that language. I would be open to the establishment of an Economic Development Commission, though the draft proposal I have seen on the idea didn’t in my view include an appropriate recognition of the impact of gentrification and the potential for continued increases in housing prices connected to economic development. I’ll urge that that be part of the commission’s focus if we do create it.
Auditorium Upgrades. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170517-5a.pdf. I’ll be voting in favor of this proposal to fund an upgrade of the auditorium projection technology. The current equipment is at the end of its useful life. I would note that the funds for this work are in the budget for the current year.
New Hampshire Avenue Bikeways. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2017/council-20170517-5a.pdf I look forward to this presentation, which is based on plans that were funded through a grant from the Greater Washington Council of Governments. The project is focused on bicycle improvements along New Hampshire Avenue.
As always, I welcome comments or questions about any of these issues.
Takoma Park City Councilmember