Here’s a link to the March 23, 2018 City Council meeting agenda: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-may-23-2018/. This week there’s an early start at 7:00 PM, when we’ll go right into a follow-up discussion on last week’s work session – which ran very late -- regarding non-traffic related issues connected to the Takoma Junction site plan. There’s only one vote scheduled, on traffic calming measures on Fifth Avenue. Then we’ll have a discussion on the proposed closure of Grant Avenue for the Grant Avenue Market on June 17; a presentation from an outside advisor on Socially Responsible Investing; a report from a representative of the City’s Annapolis lobbying firm; and finally a review of the City’s Third Quarter Financial Report.
Takoma Junction. In this Wednesday’s session we’ll explore where Councilmembers are on key areas like height, massing and footprint, which were among the key issues we considered in last week’s meeting. We won’t be voting up or down on a potential resolution relating to the site plan. The schedule for the resolution will be established once the ongoing traffic light re-calibrating in the Junction area is completed, and when we have the final analysis of the traffic flow, taking into account the re-timing of the lights. We’ll also talk at this week’s meeting about setting up a mediation process involving NDC and the Co-op. The expectation is that we’ll spend about a half hour on the Junction this week before starting the regular meeting.
In last week’s session, we explored with NDC a number of options and trade-offs for the project. I argued in favor of less height, more setback from the street to allow for an increase in public space, and joint trash and recycling for the Co-op and other tenants of the development. We’re not at a point where we know what the final project might look like. What I’d like to see going forward is a compromise that can give us a project that a wide segment of the community can get behind. That would require all parties to be flexible, and I’ll be asking at this week’s meeting for NDC and the Co-op to be willing to make concessions.
Finally, last week, we approved resolutions in favor of submitting several grants related to the Junction: a City application for a State managed Federal transportation planning grant for possible reconfiguring of the Junction intersection; and two grants for the Co-op and NDC to undertake rehab and demolition work, respectively. With the submission deadline for the intersection money this past week, I thought it made sense to apply now – even though we don’t yet know whether or how we may want to reconfigure the intersection – because otherwise it could be more than a year before the next round of funding. If we decide not to change the intersection, we can withdraw the application.
Budget/Reserve Policy (report from last week’s meeting). We took the final votes to approve the Fiscal Year 2019 budget and the local property tax rate (which we reduced for the third straight year). As mentioned previously, I’ve asked for a work session to be scheduled in the coming months where we would have the opportunity to explore various options for handling the budget going forward, including for example considering a Constant Yield budget alternative, which would be based on a tax rate that would bring in the same overall amount of revenue as in the previous year.
Related to that set of issues, we debated and voted to adopt a formal policy on budget reserve targets for the City. Our budget director indicated that, while municipalities have many ways of handling their budget reserves, a best practice is to have two months’ worth (or 17%) of revenue in unrestricted reserves (meaning that the funds aren’t set aside for any specific purpose). While we’ve come close to that percentage in recent years, we’ll be closer to 10% in the upcoming budget year.
I was reluctant to set 17% as an immediate goal we’d have to achieve in Fiscal Year 2020, because that would likely mean a significant tax increase or substantial program cuts. When we discussed this topic earlier in the month, I suggested and my colleagues agreed with the idea of being able to phase in the new percentage over three years. The resolution we voted on last week initially set a reserves goal of 20%. With the City Manager and our Budget Director stating that they were comfortable with 17%, I offered an amendment to remove the 20% target and stick with 17%, and I’m pleased that amendment was approved on a 4 – 3 vote. I would add that, under the language we approved, if we’re unable to achieve the target in a given year, the Council is required to provide a statement explaining why the target isn’t being met.
Fifth Avenue Traffic Calming. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180523-2.pdf. This will be the final vote on this proposal, and I’ll be voting in favor of it.
Grant Avenue Closure. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180523-3.pdf. We voted previously to close a portion of Grant Avenue for the Grant Avenue Market on May 13, but the event was cancelled due to inclement weather. The Market has been rescheduled for June 17, and the Council will need to approve the new closure date.
Socially Responsible Investing. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180523-4.pdf. Members of the Nuclear Free Committee have called for the City to use a new bank for its official activities to ensure we don’t work with a financial institution that has involvement in the nuclear weapons industry. Other residents have raised similar issues relating to fossil fuels. These calls for reform led the City Council to approve the idea of exploring more broadly options for socially responsible investing. I agree we should take steps to ensure that our municipal investments are to the extent possible handled by institutions that play more positive roles in society, and I’m pleased that we’ll be hearing from an outside expert on ways we can approach this topic.
State Legislative Advocate Report. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180523-5.pdf. Alice Wilkerson, with Public Policy Partners (the company which coordinates the City’s lobbying activities in Annapolis), will make a presentation to the Council on the recent State legislative session.
Third Quarter Financial Report. https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/council-20180523-6.pdf. While the Council just completed its work on the budget and tax rate for the coming fiscal year, we also need to continue looking at where things stand in the current budget year.
As always, feel free to be in touch with questions or comments about any of the issues discussed in this message.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One