This guest post is by Takoma Park resident Alain Thery.
*FACT*: According to a recent MontCo Planning Department housing study, between 1997 and 2005 Takoma Park residents experienced the highest increase in homeowners’ costs in the County (while at the same time facing the highest decrease in median income).
Could this above average increase in homeowners’ costs be related in any way to the sharp increases in property tax rates by the City during that period despite high increases in assessments toward the end of the period? Between 2005 and today, this increase in property taxes was modulated somewhat by a 7% decrease in the rate while assessment during the period rose 30%.
Looking at the 5/27/08 TP Council meeting, it does not look that the Council members in their majority are even aware of the situation that has been created for residents by relentless double-digit annual increases in City budgets approved by past and present Council members.
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Is this blindness the result of a clever manipulation by the City Manager that has become a master of annual claims that the City’s financial prospects are worrisome (even though, as this year, the data shows a healthy level of tax collection and only minor decreases in other funding sources) thereby precluding any serious questioning of her budget proposals. In fact, it is the City Manager who makes the financial prospects of the City increasingly problematic through her double-digit budget demands and her budget calculations initiated not on the State-calculated Constant Yield Tax Rate (CYTR) but on the past year approved tax rate and her reliance in dipping in reserve funds and borrowing.
Of course, the City Manager is savvy enough that she knows that, when confronted on the rate she proposes, she can count on reactions such as:
- Colleen Clay’s who seems to see the City as an employment agency; or
- Josh Wright’s, who when presented with a questioning of the automatic assumption of last year’s rate shoots from the hip with a counter-demand that the questioner identifies “areas of cuts”, quite confident that he will be able shoot them down.
Don’t they realize that if the budget preparation started from the CYTR, rather than from the previous year’s adopted rate, costs increases could be clearly identified and an increase from the CYTR be justified, i.e. it would not be a question of cutting services but see what is needed as funding. By starting from last year’s rate, identification of costs areas is being muddled as the revenue needed are already taken as an assumption.
Do Council members also have such a short memory that they have forgotten that current Mayor Bruce Williams campaigned for the post last fall on a platform of reviewing all City Departments? I have not seen any Council agenda items related to this promise since he took office and given the magnitude of the task it is unlikely that it was conducted with any seriousness without anybody noticing.
However, would not such an exercise have been quite useful for the Mayor and the Council to have a more informed view of the functioning and performance of each department prior to this budget cycle?
Tom Gagliardo, in his answer to the most recent Gilbert’s post, already made a number of suggestions as to how the City could change its ways of profligate spending. I suggest a examples of a few more:
- Eliminate two positions in the City Communications Department, leaving only that of Web master, and replacing them by Gilbert who so benevolently and so gracefully tends very often to present himself as the spokesperson and defender of City hall; [how much does it pay? - G]
- Given the loss of rental apartments in the city, is the continued level of allocation to Housing and Community Development justified.
- Do we know how many youth benefit from the activities of the Recreation Department and what is the cost per youth per type of activity?
A little thinking by a group of people who are interested in having City hall function efficiently and effectively would without a doubt come up with quite a few more areas to review.
So far, it looks like from the Council members only Dan Robinson and Terry Seamens have an appreciation of what the long-established ways of City hall bring to the residents and homeowners. I congratulate them for their concern about the people they are representing and for trying to address these issues. We can only wish that more of the Council members would share that attitude. It is not too late: the budget has to be approved by June 30 at the latest.