GRANOLAPARK: Holding the line – not

GRANOLAPARK • BY GILBERT

Dear Readers,

For a REALLY EXCITING minute it looked like the Takoma Park city council was going to reject a tax hike.

But, no, they went ahead with it.

At the last, exhausted, grouchy minute, however, they lowered the tax rise by half a cent.

So, now taxpayers face a 1.5¢ nibble added to the city’s tax bite.

To put it in sense, not cents, Takoma Park homeowners will pay 58.5¢ on every $100 of their property value. That’s higher than the 57¢ they paid last year.

It gets more complicated, however. Property values are calculated every few years based on the real-estate market, which has been low due to the poor economy. So, property values went down a bit three years ago.

So WATCH OUT, homeowners! Because your homes will be reassessed this year. Values will probably rise. If so, even they they don’t raise the 59.5¢ tax rate – it will mean a tax raise. Keep an eye on that for next year, Dear Readers.

So exciting

The exciting one minute came when Suzanne Ludlow announced that grant money had been bestowed on the city – around $267,000, almost enough to cover the amount raised by her proposed 2¢ tax rate raise. But, . . . it turned out that much of the grant money was spread over two years, and the budget was cut so close to the bone that they wanted to keep the rate raise anyway.

Why did we need a tax raise?

Because the staff needs a pay raise! The city’s salary and wages were below market. If the city wants to attract and keep excellent workers, it needs to pay them as much as the other cities around here.

What’s the curmudgeon view of this?

Your Gilbert is not the only curmudgeon in town. Resident Arthur David Olsen watches as many if not more city meetings than Your Gilbert, and not only is he way smarter than Your Gilbert, he stays sober!

Here’s what he said at the April 13 budget hearing. “While Takoma Park is celebrating it’s 125th birthday, it is in the financial position of a 25 year-old college graduate – mounting obligations, spending beyond its means, and saving too little.”

The council is considering large, bond-funded projects – such as remodeling the library and police station, said Olsen. “That makes it vita. for usl to show we’re being careful to meet financial obligations,” he said. “This is not the time to scrimp on saving.”

There are also other expenses coming up, such as the cost of new trash trucks, he said.

The general fund (the city savings account) has an $8 million balance said Olsen, “however, as the mayor and city manager pointed out last week, that amount is barely enough to ensure cash-flow needs can be met.”

Olsen said that as tight as the budget is, he could find no retirement fund figures. “The summary shows how much we have,” said Olsen “I’d also like it to show how much we need. In addition, I’d like the summary to include our pension funds where, as council member Grimes noted last week, what we have is less that what the actuary tells us we need.”

He also said he could find no information about the police employees’ retirement fund, and how that compares with the city auditor’s recommendation.

Feel good, pay more

Dear Readers know that a constant theme here at Granolapark is that adding feel-good programs and resources costs money. And the money comes from taxes. The more feel-good programs and parks, the more staff is needed and the more your taxes go up to pay them. And their pensions for the rest of their lives – plus the salaries and pensions of the people who replace them when they retire. And there’s the need to keep wages competitive.

So adding a sustainability co-ordinator staff position, at least one person to run the Safe-Grow Zone program, a green-space park on the McLaughlin property, a dog park, and so forth  . . . these are all The Right Thing to Do, especially when each is considered on it’s own . . . but the costs mount up.

Hold the line

Not all the current council members supported the tax raise. Terry Seamens and Tim Male opposed it.

Male presented figures showing the growing tax costs of properties in each ward, looking at how much city tax single family homes paid in 1999 and in 2014. He chose homes that have remained in the same hands over that period.

Ward     1999     2014
Ward 1: $5000 – $6900
Ward 2: $4500 – $5500
Ward 3: $900  –  $5000
Ward 4: $6000 – $7400
Ward 5: $4900 – $6200
Ward 6: $3400 – $5000

[All those little additional tax nibbles and small expenses for worthy programs add up, Dear Readers!]

Male predicted that the next assessment will see extreme increases.

The biggest, he said, will hit “the tiny brick houses that are clustered on Ward 6 and parts of Ward 2 and Ward 5. Those are the places that are going to feel the  brunt of a big change in property taxes. And I would argue that most of those people aren’t the sorts of people who come out to city council meetings and complain to us or praise us. They are people who quietly look at their bills and move somewhere else.”

He urged the council to “hold the line” on the tax rate “To maintain our economic diversity and the diversity of people in Takoma Park.”

Wait, he said, until next year to see the new property appraisals.

The council did not hold the line. They stayed up past midnight agonizing over several expenditures – including the library remodeling, which they kept in the budget. At the end of the meeting – when they were as grumpy and tired as possible – they negotiated the tax rate.

Councilmembers wrangling over a half cent – imagine the heart-pounding drama.

The only drama was provided by Your Gilbert lying on the floor, pounding it with an empty bottle and screaming “SHUT UP AND GO HOME!”

– Gilbert

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