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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.

May 18, 2016 City Council Meeting Agenda

Dear Neighbors:

The following is a link to this week's City Council meeting agenda:  https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2016/council-agenda-20160518-rev2.pdf.

Key items include the expected final votes on the various tax and budget resolutions that were passed on a preliminary basis in last week’s Council meeting; and a first vote on the proposed ordinance to restrict the use of plastic single-use bags, which has been discussed several times by the Council.

In addition, we will be taking up several resolutions relating to cable franchise agreements; casting a preliminary vote on the ordinance to terminate the Area B parking program; considering several appointments to citizen committees; and holding a discussion on the proposed extension of the owner occupied group house registration.

Budget and Tax Resolutions.  We will be voting on four separate resolutions. As detailed in my message in advance of last week’s Council meeting, the budget for Fiscal Year 2017 includes important new funding to establish an affordable housing fund, which I support. The City Manager’s proposed budget called for retaining this year’s property tax rate of $0.585 per $100 of assessed property value. We also considered the Constant Yield Rate, at which the same amount of total revenue would be raised in the coming year as under the current rate. That rate is $0.5518 per $100 of assessed value. We ultimately approved a tax rate of $0.5675, a little below the halfway point between the current rate and Constant Yield. Recognizing that many residents’ assessments have recently gone up substantially, I supported several spending reductions that would have led to a lower rate, but those efforts were not successful. For a home with an assessed value of $500,000, the Constant Yield Rate would have meant a City tax bill of $2,759, and the rate we actually approved will produce a bill of $2,838, an annual difference of $79.

Plastic Bag Ordinance.  The plastic bag ordinance (https://documents.takomaparkmd.gov/government/city-council/agendas/2016/council-20160518-7.pdf) would eliminate, as of October 1, 2016, the use of most plastic bags for commercial purchases in retail stores, restaurants, etc. in Takoma Park, though larger re-usable plastic bags with handles would still be allowed. In addition, plastic bags would be acceptable – if they are compostable – in certain exceptions: raw or bulk items including vegetables, fruit, nuts, grains, candy, small hardware items, unwrapped prepared food or bakery goods, frozen food, meat, fish, flowers, potted plants, and other damp items. This prohibition would not apply to home newspaper delivery within the City or dry cleaning (meaning that in those cases conventional rather than compostable plastic bags could continue to be used). The ban would also not apply to the Farmers Markets in Takoma Park until October of 2017 (meaning that Market vendors would not be required to use compostable bags until then).

An earlier version of the ordinance would have allowed the use of conventional plastic bags in the raw, bulk, and wet categories and completely exempted the Farmers Markets from the prohibition. While a slight majority of the Council favored moving to compostable bags for those exceptions, I still have some questions about that proposal, given that the compostable bags tend not to decompose well except in industrial-grade composting systems (such as the system where Takoma Park curb-side compost is collected). I also thought it made sense to fully exempt the Farmers Markets, given their unique operations, which include lack of storage, though the one-year grace period will provide a valuable opportunity for vendors to use their existing supplies of plastic bags that were already purchased. I’m continuing to think about whether there are additional changes that can be made to the proposed ordinance to help ensure that we move forward on the important goal of reducing non-biodegradable waste in the environment in a manner that appropriately takes into account the way our local businesses function.

Future Council Meetings.  Assuming the Council completes its budget and tax votes this Wednesday as scheduled, we will not be meeting on May 25. We will meet the following Wednesday (June 1), but I will miss that meeting because I will be traveling. The June 1 meeting will take place at the Recreation Center located at 7315 Hampshire Avenue. This is part of our effort to periodically change the locations of official meetings beyond the Community Center, so it is easier for residents in other parts of town to participate in municipal activities. The tentative agenda for June 1 includes the final vote on the ordinance to terminate Area B parking permits; a follow-up discussion to the earlier Community Conversation on affordable housing; a discussion of proposed revisions to the Community Grants Program; and a possible discussion on State legislative priorities.

As always, please let me know if you any questions or comments.

Peter Kovar, Takoma Park City Council

May 11, 2016 City Council Meeting Agenda