TAKOMA PARK — The Takoma Park City Council met to discuss the city budget, tax rate and parking.
On May 15, Mayor Kate Stewart and the six-member council discussed and voted to approve the city’s 2020 budget and tax rate. The budget includes a tax rate for residents that increased 2.69 cents to keep a maintenance of effort, according to Takoma Park’s City Manager Suzanne Ludlow.
“This means, if there is a desire to have a smaller tax rate, there will need to be cuts in programs, services and, likely, city staff positions,” she said in her presentation of the budget in April.
Ludlow explained that this year’s budget is very tight. This is in part because tax revenues have not kept pace with an increase in personnel and capital expenditures. She noted in her presentation that in recent years, Takoma Park has relied on reserve funds to fill any financial gaps the city has experienced.
“I have known for many years that one day we would be at this place. I just didn’t know it would be this year, and I didn’t know we would have such a limited pool of resources with which to address these pressures,” Ludlow said.
The city planned for capital projects that are either currently wrapping up or getting underway. This includes the expansion and renovation of the library, the Ethan Allen Gateway Project and the Flower Avenue Green Street Project.
Ludlow noted that the city lost value in the state property assessment. The cost of providing city services has been increasing, while the net assessed value increased more slowly to only 0.6 percent for fiscal year 2020.
“If the city’s tax rate were to stay the same, we would only gain about $75,000, which is the equivalent of installing just 600 linear feet of sidewalk,” she said.
Councilmember Talisha Searcy also noted that it was the tax rates of previous years that set the city up for the position it is in.
“It’s time we make this right and think about the next tax cycle,” she said.
Three community members attended the meeting and voiced their opinions against the tax increase.
Jessica Landman with Community Vision Takoma urged the mayor and council to keep the tax rate at a sustainable level. Other community members expressed concern over gentrification and the way low-income individuals will have to deal with the rate increases.
Ultimately, the mayor and council voted to approve the 2020 budget with the tax rate increase. Councilmember Peter Kovar was the only dissenting vote.
Kovar said that he felt as though the council could have reduced spending further than they did.
Mayor Stewart commented that raising the tax rate will help people living with lower incomes. With more revenue, the city will have more funds to provide tax rebates and services for the community, she argued.
In their discussion of the budget, the councilmembers spoke about putting together a pilot program that would have city personnel track how they spend their time.
By tracking their time and productivity, the councilmembers suggested, the city would have a better understanding of the projects or daily tasks that time up the most time.
“We spend a lot of time engaging with residents,” Searcy said, “often to the detriment of getting other things done.”
She noted that to get more-pressing issues addressed, it might be helpful for residents to rethink their expectations when they have a face-to-face time conversation with councilmembers. Also, they may try to focus their conversation topics to be more time efficient.
Other councilmembers, such as Terry Seamens and Kacy Kostiuk said they were also in favor of tracking time and productivity.
Seamens said without an indication of how employees are spending their time, it’s difficult to determine which projects are beneficial and are being managed efficiently.
Finally, the mayor and council heard a presentation from Rosalind Grigsby, who serves as the community development manager in the Housing and Community Development Department of the Takoma Park city government.
Grigsby explained that for the past 70 years or so, cities like Takoma Park have designed their jurisdictions around cars.
Today, as people become more eco-conscious and see it as a source of revenue, Grigsby recommended the formation of a parking management committee.
Although the city of Takoma Park worked on parking management projects since 2015, parking has not been managed as a system in the city yet according to Grigsby.
Mayor Stewart and the council discussed forming the committee from an existing committee group that has struggled recently to retain members and already focuses on street safety and transportation.
The possibility of providing residents city-wide parking passes was also discussed during the meeting. If approved, it would give city residents easier access to parking in surrounding neighborhoods. This especially benefits residents that do not have driveways to park their vehicles.
The Takoma Park City Council generally meets each Wednesday.