TAKOMA PARK – The City of Takoma Park Council reviewed what to potentially cut and what to keep in its budget on April 15, as they reviewed a list of options presented to them in a budget work session.
None of the proposed cuts are final, as the work session is one of many to come as the city finds a way to balance its budget and keep residents content with services provided through the city, while also removing extraneous burdens on the budget to save money. According to a spreadsheet made for the budget work session, initial department proposals for budget reductions eked out $1, 228,175 in cuts.
“We don’t have big places to cut, unless you want to say we don’t need the computer center of the library, we don’t need compost collection, we don’t need some other major service,” said City Manager Suzanne Ludlow. She followed up by saying that the cuts don’t need to be that deep for the budget to remain responsible.
One of the areas suggested for a trim was the arts and humanities budget. Councilmember Kacy Kostiuk pointed out the significant numbers behind the public arts budget, and the disparity between how much money is allocated and how much is actually used.
Kostiuk said that $45,000 was proposed for fiscal year 2020, but previous years have shown a pattern of insufficient use. For example, $43,000 was adopted for FY 2019, while $10,000 is estimated to have been used in that same fiscal year, while in FY 2018 $27,300 was adopted, but $6,600 was the actual cost of public arts in 2018.
“It seems like there’s a trend of not using that money,” said Kostiuk. “Is that an area we can look at reducing?”
Ludlow said she had noticed that as well, but realized the importance of the arts to the Takoma Park community as not only culturally relevant but economically important as well.
“One of the things I really looked at going into this budget is that it makes sense to cut a lot of the arts and humanities staff, activities, whatever. I got tremendous pushback from our economic development manager saying ‘No, arts are part of economic development,’” said Ludlow. “It is part of what sets us as a special city, helps attract people to our community and helps the artists in our community.”
Deputy City Manager Jason Damweber had concerns about needless waste and reassured the community that the money that was not spent goes back “into the pot” to be used for the next fiscal year.
Another potential cut that was brought up was interns. According to a city spreadsheet made for the work session, cutting interns could potentially save $188,160.
“The level of work that we get out of interns in the city of Takoma Park is unlike anything I’ve ever seen anywhere,” said Damweber. “It is a relatively inexpensive way to get excellent work from people who are also getting really good experience in whatever work area they’re in.”
Damweber said that if a point is reached where people or positions have to be eliminated, interns will probably be the first place to cut due to contractual obligations with unions.
Street rehab was also an option to cut, down from $500,000 to $400,000; however, both Ludlow and Director of Public Works Daryl Braithwaite expressed skepticism about the possibility.