ROCKVILLE — Rockville Mayor Bridget Newton and the town council discussed their final decisions on the direction for the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2020 budget.
After a work session on March 18, and a public hearing on April 1 for members of the community to voice their concerns about the budget, the mayor and council discussed their final decisions.
The proposed FY 2020 budget contains a total of $38.5 million, which is a slight increase — of 1.7 percent — from last year’s budget.
The General Fund, from which many departments and programs within the city get their funding, is set to receive $84.2 million. This is an increase of 2.2 percent over FY 2019.
In recent public forums, residents said they were pleased that the city’s tax rates are set to remain steady in 2020 at $0.292 per $100 of assessed value for real property and $0.805 per $100 of personal property, according to the Rockville City Manager, Robert DiSpirito.
“I am pleased to present the Fiscal Year 2020 proposed operating budget and Capital Improvements Programs (CIP),” he said in his budget introduction letter. “Although many of the city’s major revenues are showing slight increases for FY 2020, officials from the State of Maryland have cautioned all jurisdictions to budget conservatively and protect reserves considering a potential market contraction or recession in the near future.”
DiSpirito said that staff are aware of this advice from state officials and are implementing it by maintaining reserve levels at or above policy guidelines and by being strategic about adding CIPs and long-term, ongoing costs to the General Fund, which is primarily taxpayer supported.
The mayor and council discussed the creation of a safe Twinbrook pedestrian bridge.
Marissa Valeri, who serves as president of the Twinbrook Community Association, has pushed for a pedestrian crossing to link the Twinbrook neighborhood with Rockville Pike.
According to the association, a pedestrian and cyclist bridge is a crucial missing piece for the area.
“An investment in a pedestrian and bicycle connection would be in line with the goals for Rockville to be a truly walkable and bikeable community,” the association writes on their website.
The Twinbrook Community Association also has been pushing for the addition of a capital improvements project, or CIP, in multiple mayor and council meetings.
“I am here today to speak to the vote later this evening on Twinbrook Quarter and to the creation of a Twinbrook Pedestrian crossing capital improvements project in this year’s budget,” Valeri said. “These two issues are extremely important to the Twinbrook community, and the vote tonight will set the tone for how our neighborhood will advance and modernize going forward.”
She explained that both projects are timely and necessary to meet the goals in the comprehensive Twinbrook Master Plan.
“If we are truly to be a safe, accessible and walkable city, if we are committed to economic development in all corners of the city, if we prioritize connecting all parks in the city through pedestrian paths, bike paths and park space then we need to advance projects like the Twinbrook pedestrian crossing and Twinbrook Quarter.”
Valeri urged the mayor and council to establish a CIP that would create the crossing and organize funding for the project. The Twinbrook Community Association even drafted their own CIP for the officials to look over.
Ultimately, though, the mayor and council supported creating a PIP, or a Planned Investment Project, instead of a CIP. A PIP, as explained by DiSpirito, is a project that is on the agenda for a town or county council to address in the future but might not have funding in place for it now or there are other elements that need to be figured out. A CIP is a project that has funding and is planned for sooner implementation, such in the next five to six years.
Although this is not the outcome that the Twinbrook Community Association had hoped for, a PIP still puts the project on the council’s list of projects to complete in the future.
Another funding area the council discussed was the King Farm Farmstead, which is a property with historic value on Grand Champion Drive. The farm is seven acres large and features picnic tables, shelters, a grill and portable restrooms. The area is generally used for rentals, events and school outings.
In the past few months, the mayor and council formed a task force to look into options to revitalize and redevelop the farm, as it has fallen into disrepair in recent years.
Town Councilmember Mark Pierzchala recommended adding a total of $38,000 to the existing $62,000 already set aside to repair the horse barn on the property.
“That would be a total appropriation of $100,000 to shore up the horse barn, which is in very sad shape,” said Pierzchala. “I’ll just remind whom ever is watching that we’ve owned this property for well over 20 years, and we have recently just authorized and completed the stabilization of the barn. The horse barn in a lot of respects is a very valuable place because it is amenable to many different uses.”
Pierzchala explained that it would not be productive to allow the barn to fall apart.
“I don’t want to see this thing fall before we can fund it. And one of the things I’ve learned in my first two terms in this job is the concept of demolition by neglect, and I don’t think the city itself should ever be in that position, so I ask that we fund the shoring.”
The mayor and council ultimately voted 4-0 to provide extra funding to keep the horse barn structurally sound.
The proposed Rockville budget is set to be adopted on May 6.