Here’s a link to the agenda for the May 22, 2019 City Council meeting: https://takomaparkmd.gov/meeting_agendas/city-council-meeting-agenda-wednesday-may-22-2019/. The key agenda item is a budget process review discussion, focused on potential changes to the budget process based on our experiences in the recent budget cycle. We’ll vote on re-establishing and re-naming the Safe Roadways Committee, and on a tree planting contract. And there will also be discussions (with no votes) on resurfacing the Community Center pedestrian bridge, and on the concept of closing one lane of Laurel Avenue in Old Town.
Office Hours. I’ll be holding Office Hours on Wednesday, May 22 from 4:00 - 6:00 PM at The Girl and The Vine (7071 Carroll Avenue). Feel free to stop by to meet with me to discuss local issues or other matters. No appointments necessary.
Upcoming Council schedule. There’s no Council meeting on Wednesday, May 29. When a given month has five Wednesdays, the Council usually doesn’t meet on the last Wednesday.
Azalea Award Winners. Congratulations to this year’s winners of Takoma Foundation’s Azalea Awards, which were announced on Saturday at Celebrate Takoma. You can see the full list of the winners and nominees here: https://www.takomafoundation.org/events/azalea-awards
Silver Spring Intermediate Neighborhood Park Improvement Plan Public Meeting. Montgomery County Parks has scheduled a public meeting on the park improvement plan for Wednesday, May 29 from 6:30 - 8:30 PM at the Sligo Avenue Neighborhood Park Activity Building, located at 500 Sligo Ave. in Silver Spring. Silver Spring Intermediate Neighborhood Park is the park situated between Philadelphia and Boston Avenues near Montgomery College in Takoma Park. At this meeting, Park staff will provide final updates to the site plan that was presented online in February 2019. Attendees will have a chance to provide input and comment on the plan. For more information and background on the project, please visit the Silver Spring Intermediate Neighborhood Park project page.
Trukgarten. This annual beer festival presented by the Old Town Business Association will be on Saturday, June 1 from Noon - 5:00 PM at the parking lot next to the Food Co-op. It will feature not only beer and cider, but wine, food, music and other activities. For more information and to purchase tickets: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/takoma-trukgarten-2019-tickets-59960540591
State Highway Takoma Junction Vision Study. As part of its efforts to work with the community to develop a vision that supports mobility and accessibility in the Junction, SHA is hosting two workshops on the evenings of June 4 and 10 from 6:00 - 8:30 PM at the Seventh Day Adventist Church Center (6810 Eastern Ave., NW). To RSVP for the workshops and offer your thoughts about the future of transportation in the Junction via an online survey, click on this link: https://takomaparkmd.gov/public-notices/sha-vision-study-help-craft-a-vision-that-supports-mobility-and-accessibility-for-takoma-junction/
Cell Tower Regulations. Earlier this year the Council approved an ordinance aimed at providing some protections connected to the potential installation of small cell towers in our community. This action was taken in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s September ruling that substantially pre-empted the ability of local governments to control cell tower installation. City staff, in consultation with an outside expert, have drafted regulations to implement the new ordinance. The regulations spell out in more detail the City permitting process. You can see the draft regulations, along with details on how to submit online comments (with a June 12 deadline) and the timetable for a public hearing on the regulations via this link: https://takomaparkmd.gov/initiatives/project-directory/small-cell-antennas-in-the-citys-rights-of-way/
Historic Preservation Commission Consultation on Takoma Junction Project. Tuesday, May 21, 7:30 PM, 8787 Georgia Avenue, Silver Spring. Junction developer NDC will have a preliminary consultation with the Montgomery County Historic Preservation Commission, as part of the County’s process for review of the project. There will be an opportunity for public comments. Note that the public portion of the meeting is scheduled to begin at 7:30 PM, but the NDC consultation will not occur until later in the meeting. https://montgomeryplanning.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/5-21-2019AGN.pdf
UPDATE FROM LAST WEEK’S COUNCIL MEETING
The Council approved the City budget and local property tax rate. I voted no on both. If you haven’t already seen it, my blog from last week summarizes the relevant budget and tax issues: http://www.councilmemberkovar.com/blog/2019/5/14/may-15-2019-city-council-meeting-agenda
THIS WEEK’S MEETING
Reestablishing the Safe Roadways Committee: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190522-1.pdf. Given the number of significant transportation-related safety issues (including pedestrian safety) that exist in the City, it’s important for the Council and the community to have access to the kind of input and recommendations this committee can provide. I’ll be voting in favor of reconstituting the committee as proposed.
Tree Planting Contract: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190522-2.pdf. I’m pleased we’ll be continuing our tree planting in public rights of way, and I’m planning to vote yes. I’ll be seeking some clarifications on such details as the planned locations for planting (to the extent that’s known at this point), steps being taken to reduce use of non-native plants, residents’ involvement in maintenance, etc.
Laurel Avenue Lane Closure: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190522-3.pdf. We’ll be discussing the concept of closing the side of Laurel Avenue adjacent to the businesses, from Pizza Movers to Georgie’s Barbershop. This is an idea I’ve felt for some time to be worth exploring because it could allow for some interesting, more pedestrian oriented uses for the space in that area. However, I do think there are some important challenges we need to think through before we would be able to consider actually moving forward with this concept. These include the impact on the affected businesses, access to businesses for those who are disabled, the overall supply of parking spaces, congestion that may result from the suggested alternate automobile routes, what kind of events would take place in the space, etc.
These points suggest to me that, if there’s positive support in the community for the lane closure idea, we should try it out first on a pilot basis for a shorter duration. One option for a test of that sort would be to expand (for the one side of the street only) the closure that already occurs on Sundays, meaning that the space would continue to be available for other activities after the Farmers Market. I would be very interested in hearing from residents on this topic.
Community Center Pedestrian Bridge Resurfacing: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190522-4.pdf
Budget Process Review: https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2019/council-20190522-5.pdf. Among the concerns expressed by residents and Councilmembers in our recent budget and tax discussions were a desire for more improvements in transparency, and the adoption of a goal for spending and taxes, such as Constant Yield plus inflation. I agree that both of those points should be emphasized in our future budget years. Having goals for a specific budget year and for future years can contribute to greater understanding of budget details, since we would have a target against which we could measure progress. This could also make it easier for us to continue building up our unassigned reserves, which is another Council priority.
Figuring out how to determine a potential budget target isn’t a simple task. Constant Yield is a tax rate calculated each year by State officials that in theory would lead to the City raising the same amount in property tax revenues as in the previous year. However, as with most of the figures involved in budget and tax work, Constant Yield is an estimate. Some residents have pointed out that Constant Yield usually doesn’t end up producing exactly the same amount of revenue as in the previous year. This may be partly due to the way changes in assessments are calculated. Furthermore, there’s more than one way of calculating inflation.
Given the reality that personnel costs make up a high percentage of our budget, which is often the case with municipal governments, a number of residents have called for the City to require all staff to record details of the time they spend on each task or project. This could help develop a better understanding of the costs of various initiatives. I think this can be a useful way of furthering understanding of the costs of projects. But, I’d be inclined to think about this initially as a pilot project that could involve a subset of our staff, so we can see whether we’re capturing useful data. There may also be a need to work through this idea in the context of our collective bargaining agreements with City employees.
Whether we adopt some version of this approach, I’m reluctant to have Return on Investment be our primary guideline for measuring the value of City programs. While it’s helpful to have more information about the full cost of publicly funded programs, my notion of good government isn’t predicated on a positive measurable financial return for everything we do. Some programs provide benefits to the community without demonstrating that. In any case, I look forward to discussing these and other points connected to our budget process this week and at future budget meetings. And I encourage interested residents to let me know your views on these topics.
Please be in touch with questions or comments about any of the issues covered in this message.
Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council, Ward One