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Welcome to my blog, which features frequent updates on local Takoma Park issues, including City Council meeting agendas, plus occasional commentary on national news and politics.

January 23, 2019 City Council Meeting Agenda

Dear Neighbors:

On January 23, the City Council will be combining the Green Team meeting (postponed from last week because of bad weather) and the weekly Council meeting. The former will start at 6:00 PM, and the regular meeting will begin at its usual 7:30 PM slot. Here are links to the agendas:

Green Team Meeting:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/green-team-city-council-and-the-committee-on-the-environment-joint-meeting/. The Green Team meeting is an annual meeting of the Council and the Committee on the Environment for the purpose of developing priorities in the areas of sustainability, environmental protection, etc. As the Council moves into its priority-setting work this month (see below), the initiatives that emerge from the Green Team meeting will likely be incorporated into our priority planning for the coming year.

City Council Meeting:  https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-january-23-2019/.  There are no votes scheduled this week. We’ll have a presentation from the Crossroads Community Food Network, followed by work sessions on Council priorities and Council meeting procedures.

Update from last week’s Council meeting

Commercial Tax issues. We had a work session on the idea of breaking out local property tax categories. At present, we apply the same tax rate to just about all properties in the City regardless of whether they are commercial, residential, etc. Following the Council’s repeal of the Inventory Tax on local businesses, we’ve been considering ways to make up for the roughly $320,000 in annual revenue raised by that tax. One of the reasons for eliminating the tax was its unfair impact on smaller retail businesses, which calculate their inventories at year’s end, but also need to keep inventories high in holiday season. As I’ve noted, my initial preference was to exempt a percentage of inventory from the tax, which would have eliminated the tax for the vast majority of smaller businesses in the City. In the end the Council decided to eliminate the tax completely.

Whether it makes sense to replace every dollar foregone as a result of the repeal is something for the Council to decide in the context of this year’s budget discussions, which will unfold over the coming months, especially in April and May. Meanwhile, one idea the Council may consider as part of that process is treating different categories of local properties differently for tax purposes. This could involve, for example, having different tax rates for residential properties, multi-family rental properties and commercial properties. I’m far from reaching a conclusion on that point, but if we were to decide to go down that path we need to alert the County office that handles property taxes. Doing so doesn’t mean we would definitely go forward with any changes in taxation for various categories, just that we would have the ability to do so.

Taking these considerations into account, the Council informally signed off on the idea of asking the County to take the necessary steps to break out the various categories. We’ll have to vote on a resolution formally requesting that this work be done, and that will come in a later Council meeting. But the idea is that we’d most likely have the three property categories mentioned above (residential, multi-family, and commercial), plus a separate vacant property category. I think it’s a good idea for us to have the ability to make these distinctions, so I plan to support the resolution.

The Council also had significant discussion on expanding property tax credits, especially for properties that are seeing big assessment increases. This could include residential homes, small and/minority owned businesses, commercial property owners whose tenants have long term leases, etc. I agree we should explore options along these lines.

This is obviously a complex set of issues, and as noted I haven’t reached any conclusions about the direction we should go. As part of my focus on trying to keep Takoma Park affordable for people in all income levels, I’ve worked during my three years on the Council to reduce local property tax rates. I’m glad we’ve done that in each of the last three budgets. However, with property assessments continuing to trend upward, the financial pressure can be challenging, even when rates go down. So we have to continue exploring ways of responding to this concern. As we move forward I’ll be very interested in hearing from residents on these ideas.

Housing Strategic Plan.  We’ve essentially finalized our overall goals and objectives for the plan, but we still have a way to go to reach agreement on the indicators we would use to measure progress, as well as the specific programs that will comprise the plan. This is another area on which feedback from the community is very valuable. I’ll be sharing with residents through a separate message updated details on what we’ve agreed to, and the indicators and other proposals we currently have under consideration.

Important Announcements

Ward One Council Priorities Meeting. As part of our work on Council priorities, I’m hosting a community meeting this Tuesday, January 22 at 7:00 PM in the Community Center Atrium Room (on the third floor), to give Ward One residents an opportunity to discuss with me their thoughts on priorities. If you can’t attend the meeting, there will be plenty of other chances to let me know your views as the Council continues to refine our priorities in the coming weeks. If you would like to talk to me one-on-one, feel free to call me or send me an email to set up a meeting.

Council Priorities Retreats.  This month the Council is holding two priority-setting “retreats” which will be round-table type discussions open to the public. They will take place on Thursday, January 24 and Tuesday, January 29, both at 7:00 PM in the Azalea Room.

Tree Ordinance Survey.  The Council is undertaking an in-depth review of the City’s Tree Ordinance this year. A key component of that effort will be robust public engagement, including by means of an online survey which you can access via this link:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2Y76DJ2. I encourage residents who have ideas for changes to the ordinance, including those who have direct experience with it, to respond to the survey.

Crossroads Presentation:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190123-1.pdf

Council Priorities:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190123-2.pdf. We’ve taken the time at the beginning of each year to establish, revise and update our list of priorities. If you look at the current priorities document (which can be accessed through the link above) you can see that some of the items -- such as affordable housing -- are longer term efforts that the Council will likely be working on for a number of years. Others can be addressed over shorter time frames, like developing budget reserve policies. And sometimes issues arise in response to outside factors that weren’t on the front burner when we updated our priorities list, like the small cell tower issue. In any case updating the list is a valuable tool to aid the Council in determining which issues to focus on.

I think it’s important for us to actively consider how best to move ahead on as many of these priorities as possible. Among those already on the list that I think we need to emphasize are affordable housing; racial equity; better behavior by and improved communications from utilities at work in the City (including the State Highway Administration, especially on Philadelphia Avenue); tree ordinance improvements and tree canopy goal setting; and working to keep our tax rates affordable.

Those and other issues already identified as priorities will require a lot work, so my hope is that we don’t take on an unduly large number of new priority issues. A couple of newer issues I’d like to explore adding to the list include a possible ban on gasoline powered leaf blowers, and addressing the increase in storm water flows that are damaging residents’ property. I’d love to hear residents’ ideas for other new priorities.

Council Meeting Procedures:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190123-4.pdf.  At the beginning of each year the Council approves the procedures, including those relating to public comments, which govern our official meetings. The link above includes relevant portions of the City Code as well as a narrative description of the basic Council meeting procedures. One of the key areas I’d like us to look at is continuing to seek ways to expand the range of residents who participate in Council proceedings. I’d be interested in hearing from residents who have recommendations for changes to the procedures in that area or any other.

Please let me know if you have questions or comments about any of the topics in this message.

Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One

240-319-6281; www.councilmemberkovar.com

Agendas for January 29 & 30, 2019 City Council Meetings

January 14 and 16 City Council Meetings