TAKOMA PARK — The Takoma Park City Council outlined its legislative priorities Wednesday before the District 20 Maryland Legislative Delegation.
“We have an incredibly strong delegation, and from their update tonight, the work that they have laid out for themselves [and] their committee assignments, and we know they are going to be strong champions for our priorities in Annapolis,” said Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart. “So, we are very optimistic and look forward to working with them in the 2019 session.”
Priorities the city laid out for the delegation include a bond bill to fund the Takoma Park library expansion, legislation to prevent the widening of Highway 410, improvements to New Hampshire Avenue and assistance for small businesses affected by the construction of the Purple Line.
Other priorities include increasing cooperation between the State Highway Administration and municipalities to minimize the impact of construction projects, additional opportunities for municipalities to raise revenues without reliance on property taxes, building community resiliency to combat climate change and school-construction funds.
District 20, which includes Takoma Park, White Oak and portions of Silver Spring, is currently represented by Democrats Sen. Will Smith, Del. David Moon, Del. Jheannelle Wilkins and Del. Sheila Hixson will be replaced by Del-elect Lorig Charkoudian when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 9.
Smith, Wilkins and Charoudian joined Stewart on the dais, along with Council members Peter Kovar (Ward 1), Cindy Dyballa (Ward 2), Kacy Kostiuk (Ward 3), Terry Seamens (Ward 4), Jarrett Smith (Ward 5) and Talisha Searcy (Ward 6).
Moon did not attend due to a prior commitment.
Kovar mentioned that flood-plain issues delayed construction plans on the Takoma Park Library, one the few municipally owned libraries in the state.
The city is seeking an additional $150,000 to fund a project that would create a second floor, along with additional shelving and lounge space.
With the State Highway Administration looking into the possibility of widening Highway 410, Kostiuk explained that could “change the character” of the city.
New Hampshire Avenue, also known as MD 650, serves as the partial western border of the city and functions as a thoroughfare between Maryland and the District of Columbia. Searcy explained the state highway has opportunities for economic development, and the city would need assistance to maintain affordable housing with rising rent and property prices.
Smith asked if the delegation could sponsor legislation to improve coordination between the municipalities and the utility companies, adding that the use of subcontractors makes oversight “very difficult.”
“A lot of times … when work goes on, when the utilities know about it for years because it’s in their capital improvement budgets, they make sure that not just staff in the municipalities know about [a construction project] but also the elected official so they can tell their constituents what’s going on,” Smith added.
Concerning tax revenues, Smith explained that taxing marijuana and streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu in what is known as the amusement tax could serve as additional sources of revenue for both the city and the state.
“Right now, we’re up against the wall because we cannot raise property taxes,” he said.
The Maryland Comptroller’s Office defines the amusement tax as a tax being “imposed on the gross receipts from admissions, the use or rental of recreational or sports equipment and the sale of merchandise, refreshments or services at a nightclub or similar place where entertainment is provided.”
“The floodplain study for the library is just one small example of how we have to rethink and how we have to re-plan, which does take leadership from you and coordination from the state … to address a dramatically changing situation,” Smith said. “Two-day three-inch rains are going to be common around here where our storm-water system was planned for the notion that would be the exception, not the rule.”