Here’s a link to the agenda for the May 9 City Council meeting: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2018/agenda-20180509.pdf. This week’s meeting will be devoted mainly to votes on the City budget for Fiscal Year 2019 (which starts on July 1) and the local property tax rate. There will also be a vote on the Storm Water Management budget and fee, and on appointments to several resident committees. In last week’s Council meeting, we discussed and voted on a series of amendments to the City Manager’s proposed budget. As described in more detail below, at the conclusion of that process, we ended up with a tax rate of $0.5291 per $100 of assessed real estate value. This is a slight reduction from the current tax rate, and would mark the third straight year the Council has reduced the tax rate. The links with background information on the meeting agenda were not yet posted at the time I prepared this message, but they should be available on the Council website later today.
Pepco Community Meeting on Tuesday. There’s a public meeting for residents this Tuesday evening at 7:30 PM about Pepco’s street project in North Takoma. The meeting will take place in the Community Center Azalea Room. Pepco representatives will make a presentation, and residents will have an opportunity to comment or ask questions.
Azalea Awards Voting – May 16 Deadline. The annual Azalea Awards honoring those who make important contributions to our community will be announced during the Celebrate Takoma festival on Saturday, May 19 on Maple Avenue in front of Piney Branch Elementary School. The festival is from 4:00 – 7:00 PM; the awards will be announced around 5:30. You can vote for winners in 10 different categories through this link: http://www.takomafoundation.org/azalea-awards
Update from last week’s Council meeting. My approach to the Council’s budget and tax efforts last week focused on preserving programs and initiatives that make Takoma Park a great place to live, while working to keep the property tax rate at a reasonable level. Within that context, I also wanted to see us make progress in areas the Council has highlighted as priorities. In that regard, as I noted in last week’s message, I’m pleased the budget includes some modest new initiatives, including exploring partnerships and grant opportunities to increase healthy snack options in our after-school programs; providing weekend and evening programming for active seniors; implementing a Rental Inspection Watch-list aimed at avoiding long-term maintenance violations at apartment buildings; featuring other-than-English language articles in the City newsletter; and continuing to put money into the affordable housing fund. I’m optimistic that these programs will make positive differences in particular in our ongoing efforts to provide assistance to lower income residents.
As I’ve also stated, I don’t think this is a year to begin extensive new projects or efforts, taking into account the questions about the impact of the recently enacted Federal tax law, keeping in mind the continued increases in assessments many residents have experienced, and being aware that we already have some major projects underway. To be more specific, I didn’t agree with the recommendations in the proposed budget calling for five new City staff positions and an associated increase in our property tax rate. In the lead-up to last week’s meeting, it became evident that there was support on the Council to eliminate two of the new positions. While I would have preferred to go beyond that, I thought we had a good chance to combine together enough other reductions to reduce the tax rate, again without cutting into funding for key programs. And that was how we were able to cut the tax rate from $0.5348 to $0.5291.
At that rate, for a home assessed at $600,000, the tax bill would be $3,175. That’s a slight reduction compared to the current tax rate of $0.5348, under which the tax on a $600,000 house is $3,209. By contrast, with the proposed rate increase for next year of $0.545, there would have been a $3,270 tax for next year. Under the Constant Yield tax rate of $0.5075 (which is the rate at which the City would collect the same overall amount of taxes next year as in the current year) the tax bill would be $3,045. These numbers are all fairly close, and because many residents have seen higher assessments, even with the modest reduction we approved last week, some homeowners could still end up paying larger amounts next year than this year.
During the debate in last week’s Council meeting, I voted for amendments that were approved to reduce spending on sidewalk upgrades on City streets (though we kept funding for fixing sidewalks on State highways like Philadelphia Avenue), and eliminating two of the proposed new staff positions, one in the Police Department and one in the Housing and Community Development Department. In addition, we cut back on funding for areas like additional contributions to the Police Pension (above the amount recommended by our independent actuary), and our public art and community grants programs. I was on the losing end of several votes in these and other areas that would have led to further reductions and a correspondingly lower tax rate. But I’m glad that even with the new positions we’ll have a lower rate. These budget and tax numbers won’t be official until the Council approves resolutions formally adopting them, and we’ll be taking those votes this week and next week. I don’t anticipate any changes from what’s described here.
Finally, as I mentioned last week, I appreciate the concerns raised by residents who support a more transparent budget process, potentially one that would establish overall spending targets in advance. I don’t know at this point which options along these lines may make sense for us to consider. But I did recommend in last week’s meeting that later this year the Council have a formal discussion during one of our meetings on alternative approaches to the budget, so that we would have the opportunity to make changes before next year’s budget. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to schedule that discussion fairly soon after we finish this year’s budget work.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One